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Jim Lichtman

Jim Lichtman

Posted March 20, 2009 | 08:34 PM (EST)

Late Night with Obama


Jay Leno: "Please welcome President Barack Obama." (Applause)

President Obama: "Thank you." (Applause)

Obama: "...Let me just say, I think Kevin (band leader) looks good in a suit." (Laughter) "He looks a little like Secret Service." (More laughter)

Good opening line. Did he write that one himself?

Leno: "Now it's only, what, 59 days now... Is it fair to judge so quickly?"

Obama: "Well, look, we are going through a difficult time... I ran for president because I thought we needed big changes. I do think in Washington it's a little bit like American Idol, except everybody is Simon Cowell." (Laughter)

No, he's definitely got a writer.

Leno: "I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down."

Obama: "No, no. I have been practicing..." (Laughter)

Leno: "Really?"

Obama: "I bowled a 129." (Laughter and applause)

Leno: "...That's very good, Mr. President."

Obama: "...it was like Special Olympics, or something." (Laughter)

Oops, I don't think the writer wrote that one. But it was that one that's been replayed by the media. (I lost count on Fox.)

But here's the part that should have been replayed:

Obama: "...the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be okay. ...there's a moral and an ethical aspect to this..."

In August 2006, I released the results of a poll of more than 8,000 Americans, Honesty and Trust in America.

I had the Philadelphia-based Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis act as an additional set of eyes in examining the results. Among their key conclusions:

• "Most Americans have moved beyond thinking of violations of honesty and trust as the problem of a few 'rotten apples,' but instead view our major institutions as a 'rotten barrel' problem... [and] feel that core values are being threatened by the very institutions and leadership that are supposed to serve and reinforce them."

• "Americans are notoriously slow to anger, but this survey reflects a deep anger and suspicion that portends the current standards of corporate behavior will not remain unchallenged much longer."

"Americans believe that something is critically wrong in the country," I wrote back in '06, "but can't quite put their finger on it until the issue of ethics and leadership is raised. There are very few issues that affect approximately three-quarters of society, and this issue - honesty and trust - is running below the political radar."

Well, it's not below the radar any longer.

"It will take only one precipitating event," the Cultural Studies group said, "an Ethical 9/11, in conjunction with the rise of a recognized [perceived] champion of the middle class... to gain critical mass."

Considering events of the last 18 months and hoping the worst is behind us, political and corporate leadership need to take positive and deliberate steps around President Obama's words:

"...we've got to get back to an attitude where people... have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be okay."

If ever there was a need for ethical values it is now... more than ever.


More of Lichtman's commentaries can be found at www.itsEthicsStupid.com