Co-authored by Richard Barrett
Strange as it sounds, the recent collapse of the economy was predicted in a nursery rhyme. Every child in past generations learned it, although I don't know if they do now.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
But what are these values, exactly?
The Barrett Values Centre has set as its mission finding out the common values that unite a society. These values cross political divides. They form a basis for the kind of national unity Barack Obama campaigned to restore. Here's a summary of what the pollsters found:
"Out of a list of nearly one hundred values, Democrats and Republicans selected six of the same top ten values. At the top of all Americans' list is a desire for accountability....the study indicates that Americans want more focus on the common good. They want to take care of future generations and the elderly. They want employment opportunities and affordable housing. Not surprisingly, six years since the start of the Iraq war, people want peace."
Before taking too much hope from this list, one needs to read further. The pollsters asked people to choose from a list of positive and negative factors to describe their current experience of national culture. Of the top ten items chosen, all were negative. Corruption received the highest number of votes. Blame and bureaucracy were also high on the list.
People indicated that materialism and poverty plague a nation that is squandering its resources. This is a disturbing but accurate portrait of the current situation, viewing it from both sides, aspiration and realism. We aspire to peace but keep running two foreign wars. We aspire to accountability but keep operating the same corrupt system of lobbyists and influence peddling, outrageous CEO salaries and otherworldly bonuses as a reward for unbridled greed. How can we close the gap?
Richard Barrett, Founder and Chairman of the Barrett Values Centre, is a firm believer that shared values will win out, and he cites President Obama's call to unity as a guide. Others may be more pessimistic, but the deeper question is, Do we have any other choice? The possibility of a united America is still championed by Obama, despite the obvious way in which conservative Republicans pulled the wool over his eyes by pretending to welcome participation in the stimulus plan and then voting against it en bloc. The chairman of the party congratulated Republican congressmen for laying "a beautiful goose egg" on Obama's desk, referring to the fact that the recovery plan, larded with tax cuts as a concession to conservatives, garnered not a single vote on the Republican side in the House.
The minority party in both houses crows in public about skunking the stimulus package, secretly hoping it will fail so that they can crow again in the 2010 midterm election about not having voted for it. Radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh don't bother with being tactful; they openly want Obama to fail, which is like wanting the Titanic to sink even though you happen to be a passenger on it.
Throughout the Great Depression, FDR's administration had to fight against staunch Republican opposition, which would have killed Social Security, the FDIC, and many other government programs we take for granted. Why does the right wing want to strip society of any kind of safety net? Because they have forgotten that we are all in the same boat.
It's as simple as that. The whole debate over values comes down to the common good. We can differ about what the common good is, but deciding to do nothing, hoarding personal privilege, taking advantage of the weak, voting for the team instead of the truth, and paying lip service to religion while sabotaging the welfare of the poor and underprivileged -- all of that is unacceptable now. One wonders when the sizable section of politicians, bankers, and entrenched elites will wake up and realize the harm they are doing. If they know of any society in history that survived after its core values collapsed, I'd be curious to know its name.