I love Thanksgiving, the greatest of America’s civic holidays. I love it for its simplicity. I love it for its emphasis on family and tradition. I love its time of year. I love its homey food; most of all the stuffing.
(That is unless you are one of history’s worst monsters and add oysters, chestnuts, or some other damp foolishness to the mix. I mean, fruit? Pull yourselves together, people.)
But most of all, I love Thanksgiving for making explicit that gratitude is a necessary precondition for any real happiness—both for individuals and for nations.
I have been writing columns or notes like this one for nearly 20 years, and have always shared a Thanksgiving message with you, gentle reader. It is a point of privilege that dates back to when I was pushing for West Virginia to name the state holiday that falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving for Abraham Lincoln. It was perhaps the only time anyone listened to one of my very rare policy prescriptions. Of course, I had the facts on my side. Lincoln was not only West Virginia’s great benefactor in our quest for statehood, but also the president who established the national Thanksgiving holiday as we know it.
Cynicism is too often mistaken for intellect these days, and it is tempting to believe that only a fool would give thanks in a serious, sincere way. We live in a sneering age that would make humble thanks seem naïve. With this inflation? With these people? With this inequality? With this injustice? With these attacks on our way of life? But wise people know that difficult times are the most important ones in which to give thanks.
As Calvin Coolidge put it in his first Thanksgiving proclamation, “to render thanks for the good that has come to us, and show by our actions that we have become stronger, wiser, and truer by the chastenings which have been imposed upon us.” We reveal ourselves to worthy stewards of abundance when we give thanks for what we already have and by our endurance of the hardships that come with every life.
Thanksgiving is the most attitudinally conservative of our holidays. It is not about pride in all the good things we have and the great works we have achieved, but is instead rooted in humility. You can’t be thankful for what you believe you deserve, so humility begets gratitude, which begets happiness.
Yuval Levin, who I am grateful to call my boss and friend, put it perfectly in his Bradley Prize acceptance speech almost a decade ago, so I hope you will forgive me for quoting it at length:
To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.
You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.
But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.
Amen, amen, amen.
I have long made a habit at Thanksgiving of sharing the words of the great Adam Kelly, a West Virginia newsman who was known as “the country editor,” a nod to the 1946 Norman Rockwell paintings of the same name. I learned my vocation from Kelly’s son, Bob, whose voice I still hear every time a lede goes on too long or an adjective is too flowery. His father’s practice, maintained by his son and other successors after his death, was to publish each year what would in an ecclesiastical setting be called a litany.
You can read it here, but these are the lines leapt out at me this year: “Family and freedom are ordinary words … except for those who cannot now experience those blessings, and so, Lord, this day I give You thanks for the priceless privileges which are mine as an American citizen … The freedom to speak, to write, to think, without government interference or control; the right to worship You in any way I choose, I thank you, Lord.”
I say again: Amen, amen, amen.
P.S. In the name of Americanism, I will share with you my perfect recipe for stuffing so that we can forever banish the scourge of dried cherries, shellfish and who knows what other European affectations to which decent people are now being subjected. Courage!
Cut a loaf of really good white bread into ½-inch cubes. Bake it in a 225-degree oven for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry and crunchy. Place it in a large mixing bowl. Add ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, two tablespoons of finely chopped sage, and a tablespoon of finely (are you sensing a trend?) chopped thyme. Melt 10 tablespoons of the fattiest butter you can find in a big skillet and then sauté until lightly browned 2 cups of finely diced sweet onion and 1½ cups of finely diced celery. Drizzle this deliciousness over your bread and herbs. Toss it well, adding two teaspoons of kosher salt and a teaspoon of finely ground pepper as you go. Then gradually add 1½ cups of broth, again tossing lightly. (I prefer to use turkey stock made from gizzards and giblets, but any good poultry stock will do.) Adjust the seasoning. In a small bowl, whisk together two large eggs and another cup of cool or room-temperature stock. Fold that gently but thoroughly into your bread bowl. Place the mixture into a well-buttered 13×9-inch dish, cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc., at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 40.6%
Average disapproval: 53.8%
Net score: -13.2 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.2 points
[Average includes: Emerson College: 39% approve-52% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 37% approve-57% disapprove; NBC News: 44% approve-53% disapprove; ABC News/Washington Post: 41% approve-53% disapprove]
Do you think having an age limit for U.S. presidents so that people above a certain age would no longer be eligible to serve is a good idea or a bad idea?
November 2022: 58% good idea/38% bad idea
December 2019: 35% good idea/61% bad idea
TIME OUT: TURKEY TALES
NPR: “Behind the yuk-yuk dad jokes of the now-annual presidential turkey pardon is a very strange, sometimes dark and often misunderstood history, even by presidents. … Yes, there is a turkey lobby. It’s not a huge lobbying group, though the National Turkey Federation ranks in the top 5% of outside groups that have given to members of Congress, PACs and the like. … The turkey federation has been giving turkeys to presidents since 1947. But these turkeys were originally meant to be eaten, not pardoned. The first Thanksgiving turkey on record to receive a reprieve was in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy received a 40-pound turkey with a sign around its neck that read, ‘GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!’ … The tradition of sending turkeys to presidents (for their eating) goes back at least 73 years before the industry’s involvement. Harold Vose of Rhode Island, a man known then as the ‘Poultry King,’ sent unofficial Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys to the White House from 1873 until his death in 1913.”
“I cannot understand the obsession with Hunter Biden in the Republican Party and Fox News. Who cares about him when there are so many more important issues to deal with? It seems like juvenile tit for tat rather than the desire to govern effectively. I tune out when the topic of investigation of him and Joe comes up. Move on from the Democratic Party’s obsession with the ‘crimes’ of Trump. Take the high road.”—Ted Schroder, Amelia Island, Florida
Not even a little bit, Mr. Schroder? Not to say that the focus on the misadventures of President Biden’s son is not highly political and, as you rightly observe, probably ultimately damaging to the very objectives Republican cynics are trying to achieve. When right-wing outlets pushed out the 2018 voicemail Biden left for his son, for example, it backfired. But you surely can understand the obsession. It’s the same one that sent Democrats scrambling after the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution to charge then-President Trump was profiting indirectly from his office through his sons’ business deals. It’s the same obsession that consumed Republicans about then-President Obama’s affiliations with Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. It’s the same one that drove Democrats mad about George W. Bush’s service record in the Texas Air National Guard, made Republicans seethe about Bill Clinton’s pardon for his drug-dealing brother, Roger, set Neil Bush as the poster child for the savings & loan crisis when his father was president, put Nancy Reagan’s astrologer on the cover of every gossip magazine, created an uproar over the payola Billy Carter took from Muammar Gaddafi when Carter’s brother was president, and so on and so on. There is no correlation between the appetite for scandal in the opposing party and the press and the existence of actually scandalous conduct. Trump and Clinton had jaw-dropping ethical lapses, while the Bushes, Obama, Reagan, and Carter all generally kept pretty high ethical standards. But when there wasn’t rotten conduct taking place in real time, detractors reach into the past or in the family tree to find it. Republicans are also so obsessed with the laptop because it represents to them evidence of what they see as the corruption of the national news media, and Republicans hate the press even more than they hate Democrats. Plus, since the story rates with Republican audiences, there’s lots of motivation for lawmakers to push the laptop tale as a way to get better bookings, more clicks, and increased celebrity.
“First, thanks for writing Broken News, which has made me a better consumer of news. I also appreciate the writers of The Dispatch because you all come as close to objective, clear thinking as I have seen in all my reading. I do, however, take a bit of issue with your conclusions about Pelosi and McConnell being great leaders since under their watches, Congress has grown (groaned) even more weak and ineffective. Don’t they carry a lot of responsibility for that descent? McConnell may have ‘fearsome political acumen,’ but he helps develop or at least maintains the unnecessary convoluted process of governing that requires that kind of skill. I don’t think people need to be mental heavyweights to be effective representatives, just people of high integrity and authentic care for the people they represent, both of which rarely survive half a term inside the beltway.”—David Miller, Westerville, Ohio
I don’t know that I would characterize both Pelosi and McConnell as being “great leaders.” I said they were “two of [the] strongest leaders of all time,” which is something a little different. I am reminded of how English speakers so often misunderstand the nickname for Russia’s Ivan IV. We hear “the terrible” and think of a cruel, murderous man, which he most certainly was. But Russians hear their word for the first tsar, “Грозный” or “Grozny,” they think of one who is formidable and strikes fear into the hearts of enemies. Now, I’m not saying Pelosi and McConnell are like Ivan the Terrible, but certainly there is a correlation between congressional dysfunction and the rise of more powerful leaders. Thanks so much for your kind words about Broken News. I’m enormously encouraged about the future by its success.
“‘But since the GOP will have only a majority of between four and six seats, even a little mutiny could doom him.’ Does this mean MTG is running the show? Remember the old saying that Dems, when forming firing squads, line up in a circle. You’re saying that the saying applies to the GOP and the circle is forming around McCarthy even before he’s sworn in?”—Ron Smith, Larned, Kansas
You nailed it, Mr. Smith! But what would I expect from someone writing to me from the town with one of my favorite all-time newspaper names: The Tiller and Toiler. No doubt you guys put the work in!
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the always thankful Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: THIS OLD DUNGEON
A colorful picture of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell elicited plenty of colorful—and funny—submissions for last week’s cutline contest. There were lots of age jokes and some gags about their jewel-toned wardrobes for the dedication ceremony this summer for the statue of Kansan Amelia Earhart in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. But our winner played on the theme of the note’s discussion of Pelosi and McConnell’s *ahem* powers of persuasion. And remember this is the last week for your November entries, so shake off the food coma and send them in.
“Now down here is where I send my more recalcitrant members. You might be able to put this room to productive use as well.”—David Shannon, Revloc, Pennsylvania
Winner, Many A Truth Division:
“Don’t be afraid, Mitch. They hate me more than they hate you.”—Randall Reese, Bryan, Texas
Winner, Iger Returns Division:
“Disney reveals their casting choices for the live-action remake of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’”—Jonathan Mahlum, Orting, Washington
Winner, The Villages Division:
“Mitch, c’mon, keep up with me. The early-bird special ends at 5 in the members dining room.”—Richard Basuk, New York, New York
Winner, We Forgot Kevin Division:
“Guys, wait up! I’m important, too!”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania
Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun
IS THIS A ROBERT EARL KEEN SONG?
CNN: “A Texas woman entering the US told border officials the wooden box in her car was filled with beer. In reality, it was an endangered spider monkey she planned to sell. The 20-year-old woman pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife into the US without first declaring and invoicing it, and fleeing an immigration checkpoint, after a months-long investigation, according to a news release from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She attempted to enter the US from Mexico through the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, on March 21, the release stated. Officers noticed a wooden box with holes inside her car, which she claimed contained beer she had bought in Mexico. However, when officers opened the box, they discovered a live spider monkey. Officers then referred the woman to a second inspection, but she sped off instead. Later that day, officers discovered online sales listings for the spider monkey with the woman’s phone number, according to the release.”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore and Lily Nelson contributed to this report.