Oh imladris, this is a really good question. It is not easy - because I think young people today have seen very few things to inspire them, and, as you point out, have never seen government that, with all the faults of the US government up to around 1980, could be said to have had other values than how to serve corporate interests and get campaign contributions to get re-elected.
Right now I am teaching American Government, or ending that course. I have tried always to get across two messages that I use also when I teach International Relations courses.
One is that politicians are not only vote-getting machines and most actually want to do something. If they are prevented from accomplishing anything, we should look first to four things - what was wrong with the project they had in mind that may have prevented its coming to fruition; what about the institutional arrangement of government makes it difficult to do what they want to do or were elected to do - the US Constitution and the Federalist papers, which we study, are important here because one way to read Federalist Papers 10 and 51 (two of the greatest pieces of political thinking ever IMO) is that they are set up to make it hard to do anything and especially for a majority to accomplish what they want; how the thinking about the world that is dominant in the minds of policy makers is responsible for why things don't work out - this is a major theme of my recent writing on Global Governance - well meaning people unable to escape the "Common sense" they encounter among their peers - the other G20 leaders, the elites at Davos etc. continue policies they see are not working; finally how power relations always trump debate - this is what is happening now in Europe, where everyone agrees austerity has failed and their is a need for pro-growth policies, but it doesn't matter, because the forces in Europe that have an interest in austerity are much more powerful than even the combined pro-growth forces.
The second message is a true story: years ago I was teaching a course on something another at the American University of Rome and in the middle of a semester, in the middle of a class session in the middle of a lecture on something or other - the EU, or political party systems or something this student, quiet, dignified, young but a Veteran of the Iraq War raised his hand and interrupted me. He asked me, "Has politics ever led to a better world ?"
It was one of those moments where you learn who you really are and have always been. I did not think, lose a beat, hesitate for a second. As soon as he finished the question I blurted out "I don't think anything else ever has." I then got a second to think and elaborated: "You could argue that religion, or psychiatry, or art or other things have made this or that individual life richer or fuller or happier. But I don't think you could say that any of those things has ever resulted in collective society, in the larger community or world or its institutions getting or acting better. But politics has sometimes. Not always. And it has probably made the world worse more often than it has made it better. Its capacity to make it worse is probably at least as great, maybe greater than its ability to do good. But it has made a better world sometimes - Greek democracy was flawed but better than the ancient monarchies. The city state republics in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were better than what came before or after. The American Revolution and the French Revolution made the world a better place. So did Lincoln. So did the rise of democracy, social democracy, anti-fascism, the Civil Rights movement and so on and so on. Nothing else compares to politics to make a better world, which is why Aristotle considered it the highest level of human achievement, so much so that he defined humans as "a political animal" (Plato said we were hairless animals or something like that and Diogenes who was always breaking people's you know what's showed up at one Plato's lectures with a plucked chicken and asked if it was a human being). "
So I said then and so I think now. One of the problems we all face is that the democratic institutions that we have painstakingly built over centuries of struggles and that we have been able to get to work well sometimes to work for some kind of public good and the interests of the people have been trumped - power and decisions are now often taken really at the level of the Global Governance institutions like the G20, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the European Commission, which are unelected and unresponsive to public opinion or public pressure. This naturally makes people withdraw from politics but that is a part of what these organizations and their leaders are counting on.
sorry for the long lecture, but the question moved me, and I am shooting for this week's boogerlips "longest freakin' post" award.