If we want to solve our country's problems, we should look to each other, not to the nation's capital.
That was the message that Scott Rasmussen, one of the country's most astute students of politics, delivered here this week.
Rasmussen said it's the American people who offer willing hands who are our best hope for fixing problems like partisan gridlock in the nation's capital.
"The people doing that are so busy rolling up their sleeves they don't realize that they are the answer America is looking for," Rasmussen told a crowd of Bryan College benefactors this week.
He was the keynote speaker at Bryan's Opportunity Program Dinner, an event that raises scholarship money for low-income Tennessee students.
Though there are 535 reasons in Congress to be pessimistic, Rasmussen said, there are 65 million reasons to be optimistic -- the number of people who volunteer their time across the country.
He predicts that America's best days are yet to come, though he said power won't always be concentrated in big business and big government.
And Rasmussen knows his predictions.
He has long acted as a thermometer of public opinion, founding Rasmussen Reports, which tracks daily presidential approval ratings, consumer confidence and politics. He's also an author, frequent speaker and co-founder of the sports cable channel ESPN.
For years, everything about America -- including government -- grew bigger, more centralized and homogenized. But since the 1980s, power has shifted in the other direction, he said.
With new technologies, Rasmussen said, the individual has more influence than ever. Everyone has a voice. Power is decentralizing. Large institutions are threatened.
Yet government hasn't budged. And that disconnect cannot continue, Rasmussen said.
"A one-size-fits-all government cannot survive in the iPad era," he said.
Big political change often emanates from the bottom, not the top, he said. With movements like the civil rights struggle and woman's suffrage, public opinion changed years before laws changed in D.C., he said.
So it's best we put our hope in each other, not politicians, Rasmussen said.
People all across the country pitch in without getting political. He pointed to the crowd that had gathered Thursday evening hoping to raise $275,000 to fund a Bryan education for dozens of students.
"You have come to a dinner tonight so that you can give away a lot of your money to help some young students," he said. "That's a great thing."
Vance Fry, a Bryan supporter who helped organize the event, identified with the political analyst. Problems like the national debt will require a groundswell from the populace to address, he said. So we must look to each other.
"I think he's right," Fry said. "We can't depend on Washington to solve our problems."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.