What Americans may be telling us about our values

In today’s NY Times two journalists implicitly poses a question on the front page and another, on the op-ed page answers it. The Times lead story is headlined “New Poll Shows Darkening Mood Across America”. It is about the number of Americans who believe things are getting worse – a jump of 13% in just one month, but posed against the encouraging signs of renewed growth since last fall. The question implicit is: why such gloom amid signs of improvement.

In an op-ed about health care that is not intentionally related, but I think may be directly so, Paul Krugman writes about “How did it become normal, or for that matter acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? In his concluding paragraph he writes: “The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just “providers” selling services to health care “consumers” — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.”

So maybe that’s what’s behind the depressing poll numbers. Voters are often smarter and ahead of the politicians trying to figure them out. Maybe they are responding to the pollsters as they are not based just on economic statistics but on a gut feeling about how our values have gone astray.

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