Editor's Note: An Attitude of 'Me First' Extends to Nearly Every Sector of America

Nov 1, 2010

Dana Heupel
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues
In a recent MSN Money article about what corporate executives saw as President Barack Obama’s assault on businesses, T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, was quoted as saying: “Obama uses political rhetoric to demean me and my motives, but the fact is, I am completely happy with my motives and the morality of my decisions. My moral responsibility is to protect and grow the investment of shareholders.”

Regardless of what anyone might think about Obama’s relationship with the corporate world, Rodgers’ attitude extends these days to nearly every sector of America. Many company executives believe their moral responsibilities begin and end with their balance sheets. Many government leaders act only on their obligations to their political parties and campaign contributors. And many individuals believe they are only beholden to their own opportunities to generate and retain as much income as possible. Lost in the equation are citizenship, charity toward those less fortunate and a responsibility to make the world a better place for the next generation.

Or, any desire to come together to try to solve the massive problems this country — and this state — face. It’s dog-eat-dog. The antihero’s anthem of me against the world. I’ll get mine, even if I have to walk over you to do it. The old political singsong rhyme, “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree.”

The results are evident:

A state deficit that is $13 billion and growing. Unemployment that hovers around 10 percent. A growing divide between the haves and have-nots. Dwindling individual savings accounts. A lack of opportunity for young people and shattered retirement hopes and plans for those at the other end of the employment spectrum.

Politicians on both sides who promise things they know they can’t produce. Elected officials who are unwilling to reach any sort of compromise and govern. Constituents who are too uninvolved to look beyond the phony rhetoric or unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to begin the process of healing the wounds.

Out of this grows disillusionment. Ordinary people don’t understand what got us into this mess — indeed, even the best economic minds couldn’t see the crisis coming. Credit default swaps on mortgage-backed securities? Banks too big to fail? A restricted financial playground that most of us didn’t have access to, let alone know-ledge of the arcane rules that govern conduct within its confines?

Toss in two unwinnable wars and the nation’s biggest environmental disaster — caused, by the way, by a profit motive that steamrolled safety responsibilities — and is it any wonder our heads are spinning? Is it any surprise that a grassroots roar is welling up throughout the country? The surprise is that there aren’t several more movements springing from the chaos.

The emergence of the Tea Party is only a natural evolution. They’re fed up with what’s happening. They just want change, even if many of them seemingly don’t realize that the changes some of their leaders are proposing could end up taking away what little economic security they have left.

Barack Obama wanted change, as well, but it didn’t happen — or at least not quickly enough. His biggest problem may well be that it’s difficult to prove a negative, to show how bad things really might have been if he hadn’t stepped in. And now, we want change again. Or at least to shortchange some of the changes Obama did make.

That change may well reveal itself in this month’s elections. We might toss out the old and usher in the new. But who’s to say newer is always better, especially with little clear definition of what the new paradigm might entail. After the election smoke settles and the mirrors unfog, will we again be ready to move forward, or will there just be a new cast of players on the same old stage?

Will the electorate actually make the right choices, or will voters simply grasp at political straws hoping they pick the right ones? There don’t appear to be any easy solutions at this point; and maybe not even any difficult ones. Nobody’s really certain what it will take to get us out of this complicated mess, even those politicians who say they are.

Recovery isn’t likely to happen soon; it will probably require a long, exhausting climb where the steps ahead aren’t well-marked. But a willingness to accept responsibility may well be the first rung on the ladder:

Responsibility among politicians to propose real solutions instead of mouthing empty rhetoric that they know has no chance of happening, let alone succeeding if it did.

Responsibility among elected officials to work together, at least on the big problems, instead of clinging to partisan bickering and governing by obstructionism. And responsibility to their constituents — from both parties — instead of working only for their political parties and campaign contributors.

Responsibility among citizens and voters to accept that some sacrifices will be necessary and that solutions won’t come easily. Responsibility to become engaged enough to take the time to try to understand the choices that lay ahead, and then to work to make the best choices we can.

Responsibility among the corporate world to recognize that companies do, indeed, have a stake in the well-being of their employees, their communities and their nation, as well as their shareholders.

Responsibility among all of us to make sure that in climbing that hill, we don’t succumb again to greed and irresponsible actions. That we live within our means and plan for our futures. That in our rush to regain prosperity, we don’t trample those who have slipped and fallen in our path. That we consider what’s best for our communities and our nation, instead of only what’s best for us.

And, finally, we all must own up to the fact that we are ultimately responsible for getting ourselves into this predicament, and the only way out is for all of us to accept the responsibility — individually and, most of all, collectively — for doing what’s necessary to turn it around.


Lost in the equation are citizenship, charity toward those less fortunate and a responsibility to make the world a better place for the next generation.

Illinois Issues, November 2010