If history holds, President Obama will issue a proclamation this week. And, most likely, no one will care.
It will say all the right things for the holiday, as last year’s did when it asked Americans to “lift each other up and recognize, in the oldest spirit of this tradition, that we rise or fall as one Nation, under God.”
But it will be about as surprising as when he once
again bypasses Congress to pardon a turkey or two by executive order.
This isn’t a knock on Obama. One hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson rambled a bit about war in Europe and the advantages of the Panama Canal (being careful not to acknowledge Teddy Roosevelt’s role in its construction).
When it comes to memorable Thanksgiving proclamations, you have George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and maybe Franklin Roosevelt, who suggested Americans read “the Holy Scriptures” daily from Thanksgiving through Christmas in 1944. The rest all blend together.
I have a suggestion that could fix that. Many Americans will sit around their tables tomorrow and go through the ritual of enumerating things for which they are thankful. Obama could earn his place in Thanksgiving proclamation lore by doing the same thing, only with a twist. He could list things he is thankful for about his political opponents.
Imagine the uproar.
These would have to be sincere and more specific than, “John Boehner has nice hair” or “Chris Christie is effective in stopping traffic.” Insincerity would turn quickly into sarcasm.
I have reasons for suggesting such madness, and surely in Washington such behavior would be considered as insane as purchasing a fleet of snowplows in New Orleans. In fact, it could save the republic.
Researchers at various universities have demonstrated convincingly for several years now that gratitude is the perfect tonic for a variety of personal and social ills.
Studies show people who develop a habit of expressing gratitude not only are happier than others, they are more optimistic, healthier, sleep better, are better at avoiding bad behavior and addictions, have better social connections and more friends. In other words, more people like them.
I’m no Einstein, but it seems if people like you, they will vote for you. And while the president isn’t allowed to run for re-election any more, such a list undoubtedly would help his party, even as it would begin to lift the shroud of cynicism and mistrust that seems to obscure anything good or sincere that emerges from today’s political process.
It would help the rest of us, too.
This would not be an easy exercise. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal published a piece that summarized much of the research up to that time. Quoting Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, writer Melinda Beck said, “ As simple as it sounds, gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires ‘self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations.’”
But imagine leaders of the three branches of government acknowledging they are dependent on each other. This might even be the dynamite we need to blast through gridlock.
Remember that part in “Miracle on 34th Street” when Santa begins sending shoppers to Gimbels for better deals? Macys ultimately benefitted from that bit of lunacy. Why wouldn’t the same thing work for politics?
Obama would have to start small, such as saying how he’s grateful for the sincere public service offered by Republicans. Republican leaders would find themselves at a political disadvantage if they didn’t respond with a list of their own, and something a little more elevated than, “We’re grateful the president left a couple of undocumented aliens subject to deportation with his illegal executive order.” Even talk radio might find itself at a loss for words.
I’m not pretending this would end politics as we know it. People still have to run for election, and even some of the Founding Fathers were pretty nasty when it came to campaigns.
But even a small injection of sincere gratitude into Washington would, like the dressing injected into the bird before cooking, brighten the nation’s spirits.