Values? Yours, Mine, and Theirs

10/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Senator McCain put on his Superman suit, blew off Letterman for Couric, and flew to Washington in his red cloak to save the country from economic devastation. Trouble was, the legislation had already been mostly hammered out, and McCain is not part of the construction team. Ooops. Guess he will have to go to the debate after all. Shucks, foiled again.

Was the Senator demonstrating his values? Were they true altruism in a time of financial peril? Or was it self-serving grandstanding? How do we sift through our own values as well as those of others, to find the small print? "Family values" has nice ring to it, but what are they really? Are they family and fidelity and God first? Or are they a cover for double standards and hypocrisy?

A part of the Republican Party has anointed itself in charge of "values." The "religious right" supports family values: that is, staying faithful within marriage, teaching creationism in schools, against stem cell research, against choice, abstinence from sexual intercourse for unmarried people, often against birth control, unquestioning patriotism, and against the United Nations for starters. Many who are not part of that block of voters share some of those beliefs, just not so relentlessly.

The Obamas have been married for 19 years to each other and have 2 lovely children. They are church-going Christians (no matter what anyone wants to believe). They both gave up prestigious and profitable legal careers to pursue community service. Looks like the essential family values family. McCain, however, who courted his second wife while still married to his first, and was censured by the Senate, has the religious right in his corner. The values voters seem not to care how a person behaves; it is just what he or she says they stand for or the name of the party. Remember the quote from the infamous John Mitchell: "Watch what we do, not what we say." The reverse seems to be the new mantra.

We all commit acts that we consider unethical. Whether it is a sin of omission, for example, of failing to act on behalf of a threatened child, adult or animal when you can. Or a sin of commission. We know what those are: just refer to the Ten Commandments. Do we invest in companies that we do not respect? Do we follow the Golden Rule? I confess failure in all of the above. So, I judge others at my own peril. Still, we all bear the obligation to investigate our candidates, their records, beliefs and life experiences.

Sarah Palin has been enveloped in protective camouflage by the McCain campaign. A shield has been erected around her to ward off bullets aimed at her from the campaign trail and the press. The Governor herself acknowledges that her values fit in with the religious right. One thing that does not always fit with evangelicals is her brutal activities toward wildlife and land conservation.

Fair game, however, is her record as mayor and governor. Her "tongue-tied-ness" on foreign affairs and her support of the road to nowhere need to be explored. As chief executive officer the state, she spent 300 days at home instead of in Juneau and took a per diem from the taxpayers. This is not prying or unfair. It is important for voters to know. She is running potentially for President of the United States. Her commitment to run this race entitles us to know and question. Claiming otherwise tarnishes her values. We need to know more about her beliefs and those values. At first blush, they seem at odds with what she professes. Her words and deeds appear to conflict. She needs to enlighten us.

What is puzzling is how the self-styled values voters, with their own values failures, can exclude from their respect a family like the Obamas? They personify essential family dedication, respect for education and learning, hard work, and community service; they are articulate and give thoughtful answers to complicated questions. These are lifestyle habits to live by. The pursuit of excellence and working hard for it is not really an elitist attribute; it is, however, quintessentially American. These are real values. We need to honor them again.