Giving thanks is an enduring legacy of American social history. Our forebears gave thanks for the end of bad happenings - the Civil War, cholera epidemics, rabies outbreaks, and a host of other ills. They also took time from their busy lives to offer gratitude for their blessings - a robust apple crop and a good harvest, as well as national events such as a Fourth of July commemoration, come to mind.
Just as we have for at least a century and a half, Americans will set aside the end of November for a celebration of gratitude. We might celebrate the end of a cantankerous political season. While our forebears invented remedies to minimize future catastrophes and maximize future blessings - most of them involving appeals to a God seen as both vengeful and loving - we need to evaluate the recent government shutdown with a modern, honest, analytical mindset. Failing to do so may catch us unawares when we face another round of manufactured threats to national stability and well-being in February.
The recent government shutdown has been analyzed from all sides. While a fringe group of Tea Party supporters applauded this national catastrophe, an honest look at the imperiled month reveals a deep betrayal of the legislative, Constitutional process. While there was nothing unconstitutional in the Tea Party's marching of the Republican party to that cliff over which they were willing to hurl the stability and dependability of governing by law, their actions nevertheless set a dangerous precedent. As the "protest" evolved from a heels-dug-in denial of the reality of the Affordable Care Act to outrage over the debt ceiling, the message throughout was "If we don't like a law, we will stop the entire governing apparatus until we get our way."
Did it matter that doing this imperiled the well-being of millions of workers, retirees living on the brink, and veterans who are one check away from homelessness? In the surreal world created by this fringe group, President Obama is a socialist villain who fulfilled his wish to prevent tour groups from visiting national monuments. The real suffering people experienced during those days of government hiatus was as lost to the Tea Party followers as Norman Rockwell in a Salvador Dali painting.
The absence of federal workers at national monuments was a microcosm of the big picture. But it was a symbolic one. I was in Washington in July when the Lincoln Memorial was defaced, causing a temporary shutdown that foreshadowed the larger one to come. When I finally got to see the monument, a streak of green paint was still visible.
Imagine what that streak of paint might foreshadow. Imagine the chaos, disruption, and vandalism that is possible without people to guard our national treasures - the intangible as well as the tangible ones. The statues and monuments that symbolize two centuries of history, but also, those ongoing resources that safeguard a superb quality of life - safe water supplies, clean parks, roadways that allow commerce and recreation, and most of all, the process of making, keeping, and judging laws without which the entire infrastructure would fall apart.
Tea Party sympathizers have argued that Ted Cruz and his band of fringe legislators were merely following the example of President Obama. If he can disregard established laws like the Defense of Marriage Act by failing to reinforce its provisions, they say, then the legislative body has a similar right to buck the law of the land.
This argument has linguistic and philosophical flaws. A "failure to reinforce" a law is a judgment call, a word game. Giving it the same semantic weight as "disobeying" or "disregarding" or "destroying" a law, which was the intent of the Cruz faction, is disingenuous. Secondly, all Tea Party followers should celebrate rather than decry the destruction of DOMA since their self-described mission to "restore ... Constitutionally Limited Government" manifests in a strong sense of the sanctity of state oversight for most matters, including marriage. If President Obama is guilty of letting an unconstitutional federal law fade into oblivion, then the states-rights crowd should applaud his actions.
The shutdown was painful and for many people who depend on federal services - all of us, to some degree - it was frightening. The only possible benefit that can be gleaned from this mess is a laser focus on the inconsistent thinking, narrow agenda, and intransigent lack of cooperation that characterize the Tea Party's legislative caucus.
There is time before February for the Republican Party to assert its old-fashioned, guiding principles, which are so much more honorable than those of the Cruz persuasion. I, for one, will be extremely thankful if the party of Eisenhower, the Grand Old Party of my grandparents, finds its way home.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org