Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 1999/17 Kislev, 5760

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Jeff Jacoby
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Robert Samuelson
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Weekly Standard


America's real worth -- Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national thanksgiving at a time when there wasn’t much to cheer about. War was splitting the country. European nations were looking on with the detachment of cats observing dying mice. And Lincoln was mourning a dead son and a broken wife.

Still, his proclamation began on a note of hope: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

“But,” he cautioned, “we have forgotten G-d. ... Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the G-d that made us.” He thus urged his countrymen “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Lincoln appreciated something we don’t: We ought to give thanks not because we are large, rich, powerful, virtuous or happy -- but just because we are. In the 134 years since our greatest president’s death, the world has overcome horrors far worse than the Civil War. Now, having prevailed over Nazism and Communism, we feel a spreading sense of triumph. As the embers of the Cold War cool to ash, we even harbor Panglossian fantasies of prosperity without end.

Unfortunately, our feelings of conquest rest on a shaky foundation. We may have defeated Marxism, but we have retained its worst remnant -- a public obsession with money.

For most of this century, Babbits and Socialists alike have measured America’s greatness (or lack thereof) by tallying its assets. The standard Thanksgiving declamation begins with a tribute to Pilgrims and ends with some gush about commerce. In this way, an anagogic holiday has slid into demagogy.

I owe this insight not to Lincoln, but to my 2-year-old daughter. She recently insisted that I pick her up so she could say: “Daddy. Do you know that I can go outside and laugh? And play?” She beamed as she spoke, letting the “l’s” roll playfully from her tongue, like strewn jewels. She loves mundane wonders, such as blades of grass and crickets in the hearth. This contrasts vividly with politicians who praise such things as factories and government offices -- treating people as incidental participants in the March of History.

The recent debate about the federal budget illustrates the tendency to treat cash as our leading social indicator. Democrats and Republicans alike defended their votes by reciting what they intended to spend. This is idiocy. When rich uncles attempt to purchase affection rather than earning it, they destroy joy and sew cynicism. The same goes for legislators who purr with affection as they pilfer our wages.

Sometimes, the monetary obsession encourages evil. Think about the health-care debate. Politicians want to “humanize” HMOs by forcing them to pinch pennies while performing a broader range of services. This emphasis on “efficient compassion” puts the coin before the patient -- and gives a subtle boost to such causes as “death with dignity” statutes.

After all, the euthanasia movement urges snuffing out people who cost too much. A bedridden grandma, the argument goes, will feel like a burden and eventually lose her self-esteem. As her mental and physical ailments multiply, loved ones will want to relieve her agony. So they will pump her full of painkilling poison.

Having reduced life to a cost-benefit transaction, euthanasia advocates throw open the door to murder -- which is what Dutch doctors now perform without aging patients’ consent.

When men exalt themselves as the measure of all things, they treat others as chattels. Today, politicians condone various thuggery -- snooping on citizens, auditing opponents, issuing edicts about everything from chair heights to hamburger-cooking temperatures -- in the name of the greater good. Unless a humility epidemic hits Washington soon, the defining battle of the next century will be the struggle to defend individual dignity.

This is why it is important to get Thanksgiving right. Of course we should count our blessings. But we should be thankful for things far more basic than our affluence.

Fittingly, Lincoln opened his final public oration with such a call for thanksgiving -- knowing, even as death drew near, that right reverence is the surest way to stamp out the kind of arrogance that turned Young America into a killing field.

Tony Snow Archives


©1999, Creators Syndicate