Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

23 November 2010

Thanksgiving Message 2010

Two years ago, this time of year brought hope that buoyed us, even in the midst of pain. I wrote, “We have elected a great leader, the most promising of my six-decade lifetime—maybe since Lincoln. The Civil War is really over after 143 years.”

Today, like much that gave us hope then, those words seem premature. They ring hollow.

Somehow, the sin of pride has overwhelmed us. Everything we thought was strength has turned to weakness. The government our Founders bequeathed us seized up in gridlock. A major party devolved into a sick fraternity, full of hazing, taunts, dares and pranks. Our free speech, once so envied, became the rawest license, a volcano of lies, hate, misplaced pride and fear. It let evil rich men poison our national psyche.

Our original sin of slavery—the one we’ve thought we’d finally banished—came back to bite us again. Too many of us took a beleaguered President as an excuse for hazing and figurative lynching. Some turned on him when he failed to become the Messiah we childishly hoped he would be.

And what about ourselves? Remember the men and women who defeated the Great Depression and two vast military dictatorships? Now they were something. They rose from peaceful isolation, mostly on farms. They didn’t beat their chests and crow “we’re Number One!” They didn’t ask “why me?” or “why now?” They did the duty that history assigned them with strength, humility, dignity and grace. They patiently outlived the Cold War and gave us all we have today.

And what did we do with it? We became vain and selfish. We wanted all without pain, striving or taxes. We justified our greed with the hubris and self-righteousness of later Roman emperors. We became vain and spoiled. We stopped saving and planning for the future. We waxed angry and obese.

In such times, there is little for which to be thankful. We are still here. But the rest of the world—with the quiet strength and dignity that once was our birthright—is putting its head down and passing us by.

So much is twisted and rotten, not without but within. We quake and rail at a few hundred Islamic extremists. But the enemy that even now is bringing us down is us. No one can respect us if we don’t respect ourselves. It is as if some celestial satirist mocks all that once made us great.

So hope is all we have left.

We have a good President. In office less than two years, he’s saved us from a second Great Depression he didn’t start. The cost was far less than anyone expected or had a right to expect.

His works are legion. He gave us a big stimulus, health-insurance reform, financial reform, a renewed General Motors, an agreement for higher-mileage cars, and a government that once again works for the people, allowing the States to experiment with cutting climate change and enforcing workplace-safety and civil-rights laws. He’s kept millions off the streets by extending unemployment insurance and keeping police, teachers and fire-fighters on the job. And all this he has done in the face of the nastiest obstruction in our history—an opposition that proclaims his failure and defeat (and ours!) its sole and solitary goals.

But even the President cannot save us. We cannot rest our hopes on someone else. We must look for change within ourselves.

We could do worse than recall our first Thanksgiving. Our Pilgrims lived together in a small community. They were alone, in a vast wilderness colder and less forgiving than anything they had known.

They helped each other farm, work and survive. They fought the elements together. They cooperated with the Natives, who helped them through their first winter. They prayed, worked, built homes, lived, and died together, just as did our parents and grandparents during the Great Depression.

Our first Thanksgivers trusted and relied on each other, not just themselves. They had no rich or poor. Each knew he our she could not do it all alone. So they treated each other with respect, care and kindness. Their deep and true religion bade no less.

If we can recapture that spirit, there is nothing we can’t do. If we fail to recapture it, there is nothing we can do. A bunch of self-seekers does not a society make, no matter how many or how self-important they may be. So it’s up to us together, as it has been from the beginning. For that, at least, we can give thanks.

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