Suppose one were to ask the following question of a cross section of American society: What should the United States government be doing for its citizens? Many people would answer in specific terms. For example, some would say that the United States government should be ever vigilant against the Russians; others would say that the government should lower taxes. Those who respond in more general terms, however, will say that the government should act in the general interest, the public interest, or that it should do what will benefit all Americans, not just the interests of business or labor, for example. Americans talk as if they want their elected leaders to serve all constituencies. A leader too closely identified with one faction or interest risks defeat at the polls. Many Americans, then, would argue that the purpose of government is to promote the general welfare or serve the public good.
Terms like "public interest" and "general good" have rich positive emotional associations. It may even be argued that such terms have more favorable connotations now than "motherhood" or "patriotism." Although everyone seems to be in favor of the public good or the general interest, it is very difficult to get everyone to agree as to what precisely promotes the public good. There is a tendency for each particular interest to claim that an activity or program that benefits its particular goal is really in the public