According to a new Time/Rockefeller Foundation poll, 85% of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track.

And it is.

Our economy is cratering, homes and jobs are being lost, pensions ravaged, and opportunities dimmed. Conservative free market assumptions and shibboleths are being exposed, questioned, and recognized for their bankruptcy.

That’s why Americans once again seek a government that does more to support our everyday lives: 82% support public-works projects to create jobs; 84% want new measures to improve energy inefficiency and support clean energy alternatives; 77% want the government to provide health insurance to those who can’t afford it; and 83% want the national minimum wage increased to keep up with the cost of living. More than 2 out of 3 American favor government funded childcare to make it easier for people to work.

Recent numbers from The Center for American Progress Action Fund reveal the depth of the economic pain people are currently confronting: in June, housing foreclosures were up 50% compared to the same month last year; gas prices are up 33% from this time last year; there were 438,000 jobs lost in the first 6 months of the year; food prices rose 4% in 2007, the fastest rise in 17 years; heating oil costs are expected to be up 60% from last year; and real hourly and weekly wages are declining. It’s no wonder that the Time/Rockefeller poll shows that 52% of Americans believe the American Dream is no longer attainable “if they work hard and play by the rules.” Nearly 80% feel “the social contract has been broken and should be rewritten to reflect current [economic] realities.” (Including 90% of Generation Y – those between ages 18-29 – which might partially explain their record-setting turnout in the Democratic primaries.)

I’ve argued in recent years that Americans want to be governed from the center – but it’s a new center – one that deals with the issues that are at the center of their lives. People want policies that support affordable childcare and healthcare (the poll also revealed that 25% of Americans haven’t gone to a doctor in the past year because of costs, and 23% haven’t filled a prescription for the same reason); quality public education, a living wage, and retirement security; environmental protection; saving our homes and helping to keep our families together.

A wildly deregulated, reckless free market that has socialized losses while pocketing the profits for the already wealthy has made the time ripe to lay out a new idea, a new story for a more just America. This is a moment progressives need to seize. As Bill Moyers wrote in a Nation cover story, “Here in the first decade of the twenty-first century the story that becomes America’s dominant narrative will shape our collective imagination and hence our politics. In the searching of our souls demanded by this challenge… kindred spirits across the nation must confront the most fundamental progressive failure of the current era: the failure to embrace a moral vision of America based on the transcendent faith that human beings are more than the sum of their material appetites, our country is more than an economic machine, and freedom is not license but responsibility – the gift we have received and the legacy we must bequeath.”

If there is to be an upside to our downsized politics of excluded alternatives that characterizes the past 8 years, it will be in our hard work and success in ensuring that we never again return to an era of feckless, uninspired and uninspiring government.