“Have It Your Way” was the central theme behind a series of Burger King commercials first aired in the early 1970s and then re-introduced and re-emphasized in the 2000s, and the idea has clearly a special resonance with Americans. According to a Google search, there are over 80 million ads and approaches on the idea of doing it “your way.” Then there’s the iconic song, “My Way,” written by Paul Anka and popularized by Frank Sinatra, which is one of the songs most recorded and performed by other artists. While Sinatra reportedly later stated that he hated the song and found it self-serving, it remains one of the most popular songs sung at funerals.
Although there is nothing wrong with wanting things to go our way, and trying our best to make them so, there’s a difference between aspirations or goals and expectations, and a generation or more of commercial enticements based on the theme that we “deserve” to have things our way seems to have created – or definitely boosted – the expectation that “things” ought to go our way.
In economic terms, American businesses, as I’ve discussed more than once, are concentrating almost exclusively on maximizing profits – having it their way, if you will – without regard to either employment wage levels of their employees. Employees, those that can, are pressing more and more for jobs that are “meaningful” to them, often regardless of what business needs happen to be. Increasing numbers of college students have begun to tell their professors what they think they should learn and how much work they should do, while state legislatures are telling state universities what percentage of students should graduate in how many years, without any consideration of the costs or the number of instructors or professors necessary to meet those goals.
The same expectations are revealed in national politics. Eighty percent of Republicans believe President Obama lied to pass the Affordable Care Act, while seventy-five percent of Democrats believe he didn’t. What makes these numbers interesting is that the majority of Republicans believe that the ACA will hurt them personally and financially, while the majority of Democrats feel that the ACA will benefit them. In its latest issue, the Economist published graph illustrating how the legislative process has changed in the United States Senate drastically over the past thirty-five years, showing legislation that in the late 1980s the majority of legislation was passed by cooperative efforts of both parties and how that has changed over the years so that, by 2013, almost none was passed cooperatively.
I doubt if anyone can say which came first, the commercial emphasis on “having it your way” or the social change in attitude that found that message so appealing, but how it happened matters far less than the devastating effect that belief is having on American society and politics.
None of us can have everything all “our way” all the time, or even close to it, not if we want to have a working economy and an even halfway functional government in the years to come, and it’s past time that we not only came to grips with that, but started doing something about it.