America, a Country Where Most Things Work

09/27/2011 09:57 am ET | Updated Nov 27, 2011

After a long flight home from Los Angeles the other day, I discovered the airport valet had an accident with my car. Unexpectedly, I had to deal with an apologetic manager, the lady who hit my car, the police, the ambulance shuttling the injured valet driver to the hospital, the towing service, and a rental car company so I could get home. But it all worked out. My auto insurance kicked in. The lady who hit my car apologized, and I reassured her that accidents happen to all of us. With the conflict resolved, we moved on, each with our dignity intact.

The situation reminded me that, in most of America (where you don't get paid unless you add value) things generally do work out. By and large trains and planes run on time, hospitals take care of the sick, and traffic, though sometimes congested, flows sufficiently to get us to our destinations. Occasionally, one person flips off another or customer service turns into disservice, but generally Americans go through their days getting along. Things get done because the values that underpin our daily interactions -- cooperation, respect, civility, doing the right thing - grease the wheels of good commerce.

But, sadly, not in politics. Too many political leaders today do not reflect the values that keep the rest of American society moving. Every day in America, ordinary people contribute something worthwhile because they understand that collaboration, kindness, doing things right and doing the right thing are what make America work. But day after day our political leaders prove to us that they value winning arguments and elections more than doing the right thing or providing good service to us, their customers.

One of the virtues of capitalism is that it keeps businesses in sync with the sensitivities of their customers, not in a superficial sense -- leading in the next poll -- but in a very real sense -- giving them what they need and want. While the rest of America values cooperation, Washington values conflict so much so that it has become the norm. It's business-as-usual to bash an idea only because it came from the other party and to defame an individual simply because he might win if you don't. When that happens, America, the customer, loses.

Whether any of us like it or not, our behavior exposes our real values. The behavior of our leaders in Washington is telling. It demonstrates clearly that they are experiencing a crisis of values. The solution is not that difficult: our political leaders need only look to the capitalism they hail and the people they serve to find it. They could start by asking themselves the same things entrepreneurs ask all the time: what is my product? How can I make it better? How can I create a win-win for both me and my customer?

Service above self-interest. Cooperation, collaboration, civility and respect. These values are demonstrated in the daily activities of most of us most of the time. Our parents, teachers and coaches drilled these old-fashioned values into us in a thousand ways. Remember "there's no 'I' in team?" It's a simple concept, and there are other names for it -- names like leadership, character, and sacrifice.

Washington may be broken, but I'm convinced that America is not. When the values of our leaders in Washington again reflect the values of ordinary Americans, Washington will start working again.

To find out more about America's values, go to