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A different kind of bounty

Thanksgiving is a holiday for enjoying the bounty of the harvest. By many measures, this country is in for one thin Thanksgiving this year.

The bottom still seems nowhere near in housing, with housing starts in October falling to their lowest level since 1959. And the weakness of the housing industry has spilled over now into other sectors. The auto industry, supposedly the direct or indirect source of one out of every 10 jobs in this country, claims that it is unable to survive without an emergency transfusion of billions of dollars; industries from Wall Street to high tech are announcing massive layoffs; and jobless claims have been up over half a million for two weeks in a row.

But there is more than one way to measure bounty. And by some measures, the United States has more to be thankful for than it has in many years.

Supposedly, the Chinese ideogram for crisis is composed of two symbols: one signifying danger, the other, opportunity. We believe that America is, indeed, now in crisis, but that that crisis presents it with a rare and precious opportunity to reinvent itself.

Such reinvention is not to be seen as the repair of a problem, but as lying at the very heart of our nature. The Revolutionary War itself was not made out of whole cloth; it was a group of people reinventing the concepts of government and nationhood out of ideas embedded in British common law and European Enlightenment philosophy. In all the great watershed events of our country—the Civil War, the New Deal, the Great Society and the civil rights movements—we have faced one conflict or another that threatened to rip us asunder, and used it instead to rediscover the great ideas on which our nation is based and then body them forth in a new way—in an ever more perfect union. It is perhaps this that President-elect Barack Obama had in mind in the quote we used on our op-ed page last week: “For this is the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected.”

There is one essential piece needed, however, to bring out the opportunity in crisis: the people of the nation must come together to act. And as contentious as this election year has been, it seems that the American people have come out of it more united than they have been in many a long year. Obama’s approval ratings now amount to about two-thirds of the country, suggesting that even many of those who did not vote for him now wish to work together to get the country moving forward again. An estimated four million people wish to attend Obama’s inauguration, eclipsing the previous record of 1.2 million set in 1964. The hope and enthusiasm these numbers reflect are bounty indeed.

It is also hopeful that the coalition that voted for Obama did not reflect as much of a division of the American people into the same old armed and polarized camps as we have become accustomed to in recent years. The first African-American Presidential candidate, he actually won a higher percentage of the white vote than any non-incumbent Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter, according to Slate. States like Indiana and Virginia, which last voted for a Democrat in 1964, and North Carolina, which last voted for a Democrat in 1976, were all part of Obama’s support. Perhaps Americans on this Thanksgiving Day have recovered their most tremendous and powerful resource: one another.

Of course, it is one thing to obtain popular approval during the honeymoon period when a President has been elected but does not yet have the power to screw things up, and another thing to govern. It would be naïve for us to assume that the current wave of popularity that Obama enjoys will automatically last. And while we are hopeful, we believe that repairing our severely damaged economy will take bolder strokes of imagination and courage than we have yet seen from the President-elect or his transition team.

But coming up with such solutions is not all up to him. It’s up to us too. It was a central part of Obama’s campaign rhetoric to admit that he makes mistakes, and to stress that he needs us and will listen to us. So let’s relax and enjoy this Thanksgiving, rejoicing in the bounty of a newly united country and the opportunity the current crisis provides to us to invent ourselves anew. And then, let’s get to work.

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Dr. Punnybone

The Andromeda Strain

Letters to the Editor

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Keeping her promises

To the editor:

Tina Palecek, supervisor of the Town of Highland, has done what few political leaders ever accomplish—she lived up to her campaign promises. Tina promised to change Highland’s tax assessment process, which was hurting every homeowner in the town. Assessments were going up when property prices were plummeting. To see a leader steadfastly and stubbornly focused on the issue she successfully campaigned on was inspiring. Kudos to Tina Palecek, Town of Highland Supervisor, for sticking her neck out and fixing a wrong.

Charles Petersheim

Eldred, NY

Careful what you wish for

To the editor:

In the recent column by Marcia Nehamiah that highlighted the negative aspects of the wastefulness of resources in our society, there were certainly some important issues raised.