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Let Us Give Thanks for the Federal Government

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 22, 2012: As the name of the holiday suggests, Thanksgiving is supposed to be an American holiday set aside for giving thanks.. This particular Thanksgiving happens to fall on the same date in November when President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated in Dallas in 1963. I give thanks today for President Barack Obama's re-election, and I hope that he is not assassinated, as President Kennedy was. Despite the fact that today's date calls to mind President Kennedy's assassination, I would say that we Americans have much to be thankful for today, especially for the fact that Mitt Romney was not elected to be the new president of the United States, which would have brought Republicans back into power in our federal government.


The presidential election of 2012 offered American voters a stark choice. On the one hand, the American voters could have voted for the Republicans, the very culprits who got us into our present economic mess. On the other hand, the American voters could have voted for the Democrats, who are working diligently to get us out of the economic mess that the Republicans got us into.


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However, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to recast the two political parties. Broadly speaking, the Democrats give thanks for the federal government and would like to try to make it work more effectively for the common good. By contrast, the Republicans do not give thanks for the federal government. On the contrary, following a quip made by President Ronald Reagan, Republicans today tend to see the federal government as a problem, not as a possible solution to problems plaguing the country. As a result, Republicans often appear opposed to trying to make the federal government work more effectively.


Now, about two decades before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Ralph Waldo Emerson published his famous essay "Self-Reliance" (1841). This essay includes the frequently quoted line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." In this essay Emerson works with the contrast of self-reliance versus conformity. I find much in his essay that appeals to my American soul. Indeed, his essay could be characterized as a hymn to individualism, which I prefer to describe as individuation.

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In terms of the 2012 presidential election, I would have to say that the Republicans in certain ways seem to me to come much closer to the spirit expressed in Emerson's "Self-Reliance" than the Democrats do. No doubt the spirit of Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is quintessentially the American spirit. Yes, to be sure, self-reliance and individuation are the heart of American capitalism, which can be exploitive at times if it is not carefully regulated by government regulations. No effective government regulation = exploitive capitalism. Exploitive capitalism = social Darwinism. Mitt Romney captured the spirit of social Darwinism when he memorably referred to "makers" versus "takers."


However, even though it is far less obvious, self-reliance and individuation are also the heart of American democracy, the value of which depends on the self-reliance and individuation of the voters. For the opposite of self-reliance is reliance on authority figures, including of course such authority figures as the king of England. I would also venture to say that the quality of everyday life in the United States today depends on the self-reliance and individuation of the American people as citizens. Inasmuch as we Americans individually are not self-reliant and individuated in ways appropriate for our ages, we as American citizens are going to disappoint one another in one way or another. Conversely, inasmuch as we Americans are optimally self-reliant and individuated in age-appropriate ways, we will tend to build up one another, rather than let one another down.


Moreover, American democratic government with its built-in system of checks and balances is also quintessentially American.

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So the American spirit expressed in Emerson's "Self-Reliance" expresses much that is important in the spirit of carefully regulated American capitalism and effective American democratic government. In short, Emerson's "Self-Reliance" expresses much that is of central importance in the cultural infrastructure, as it were, of our American cultural heritage and American identity.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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