Like many of you, I was lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Big breakfast, bigger lunch. My son had to leave early so he could go to his night shift job, but hey, I'm thankful he has a job. I'm thankful for all of it—the family, the home, the food, the moments of peace and satisfaction. I realize how many people were missing family, missing homes, missing jobs, missing the chance to enjoy the day.
While I was being thankful, I gave my thanks for what made a good day possible. I gave thanks for government.
Thanks for the highways and railroads that brought my family swiftly and safely together. The need for an system of federal roads to connect the nation was so clear that the first major effort was commissioned by George Washington and the legislation signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1806. The value of the railroads so obvious that the acts to put lines across the nation were signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and 1864 while the Civil War was underway.
Thanks for the safety of the food we ate. I'd like to say that everything we had was organic and locally owned, but I'm thankful that when a Midwesterner resorts to canned cranberries, he can do so with the assurance that the contents of the can will be cranberries, and not sawdust or simply garbage. For that I can think the Pure Food and Drug Act that Theodore Roosevelt signed in 1906. Roosevelt was a skeptic who didn't believe the horror stories that Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle. So he sent his own team out to investigate. Within weeks the legislation was passed. Thirty years later, another Roosevelt signed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, strengthening the ability of the new FDA to make sure our food was safe and labeled correctly.
Thanks for the safety of the water we drank. Yes, there might be problems with that water we don't yet recognize, but I can drink it with some assurance that it won't hold raw sewage thanks to the Rivers and Harbors Act that William McKinley signed in 1899, and that it won't be laced with toxic chemicals thanks to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act that Harry Truman signed in 1948, and the Clean Water Act which a Democratic House and Senate passed in 1972 over the veto of Richard Nixon.
Thanks for the safety of the air we breathed. On Thanksgiving week in 1939, the area where I live was shrouded in a smog so thick that day and night were the same. Street lights glowed in the gloom of noon, and people passed out just walking along their sidewalks. This week we looked out on beautiful blue skies and the only smell in the air was the last autumnal hint of fallen leaves. For that I thank the Clean Air Act signed by John Kennedy in 1963 and the expansions of that law that came later, including the one Nixon had the sense to sign in 1970. I thank that same legislation for the beautiful woodlands out my window, woods that could easily have have died from pollution, acid rain, and disease were it not for the legislation that protects them.
Thanks for the teachers that went all out to see that we got good educations at public grade school, high school, and college. While I'm at it, some thanks for the fantastic national benefits of an educated populace, and to the incalculable rewards in dollars, health, and standard of living that have come from an extensive system of public research universities.
I give thanks for the system that saw so many travelers safely through the air this week. I know that you guys don't like looking in our shoes any more than we like taking them off.
I certainly give thanks for those in the military who are, let's hope, spending their last Thanksgiving away from their families. My brother-in-law who is actually older than me (such people exist) was still required to spend this holiday in Iraq; everyone in the family will give special thanks when that's no longer true.
Thanks for Social Security and for how it has transformed this nation from the place where the majority of the elderly lived in poverty.
Mostly I give thanks the words that Lincoln said: government of the people, by the people, for the people.
There are those who see government as the problem. As the enemy. They want to reduce government's role. There are candidates for president running on the idea of destroying the government as a tool to protect health, safety, and envionment; campaigning in the name repealing some of those same laws i just listed and eliminating the agencies that enforce them. The thing is, none of those laws exist because someone thought it would be a peachy idea. They exist because there was a need. Government is not a power grab by some outside force, it is the body of the people, acting in the people's own self interest.
I suppose it would be possible to live in a country were every road was a private road. Where only the children of the fortunate were educated. Where the elderly were on thir own. A country where the only law protecting your family's food was caveat emptor and clean air was available to those who could buy it in bottles. A place where safety was measured in the caliber of your weapon, and peace in the height of your walls. It might be possible, but it would be ugly. It wouldn't be America.
Our government exists for many purposes. These purposes include protecting the resources we hold in common, regulating the activity of business, protecting our health and welfare, and seeing that the people are given the information they need to make informed choices.
Says who? Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy... and that's just scratching the surface. America is only as good as its government, and that government deserves people who want to make it better, not worse.
I'll be thankful if eleven months from now we elect a few.