Column: Let’s talk turkey, and make that list of those we should applaud

From the Middle East negotiators to elite GOP politicians, there are reasons to be grateful, even if it sometimes requires a stretch.
Thanksgiving meal set out on a dining table
Photo by Ms Jones/Wikimedia.

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, the driving forces behind Axios News, have suggested that readers make a list of people for whom they are grateful at Thanksgiving time — and repeat those names often.

Those lists can take many forms — personal or political, serious or frivolous, predictable or surprising, short-term or long-term.

Here are some suggestions.

Certainly we should all be grateful to the negotiators who brokered the temporary pause in the Middle East war and the release of at least some hostages. The pause cannot undo the impact of the atrocities during Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, nor can it return the lives of the Israelis and Palestinians lost since, nor does it signal an end to all hostilities.

But at least it is a step, one deserving of gratitude.

Holiday travelers — and all Americans — should be grateful to the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who came up with a plan to keep the government open after last week’s deadline.

He has not solved the long-term problem, which the country will confront again in January and February, of a divided Congress with partisans having very different views of the fiscal path forward. But he gave us a reprieve, and a holiday season in which government employees will receive paychecks and planes have a chance of flying on time.

For that and the concurrence of party leaders on both sides of the aisle, we should be grateful.

This weekend particularly, but really every day, we should be grateful for the work of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who just announced her retirement after 16 terms in the House.

Why Eshoo? She has been an incredible legislator, the author of more than 60 bills that became law. But one stands out this weekend, the law that makes it illegal for television networks to air ads at a higher volume than the show people are watching.

Thank Eshoo for not having to turn down the volume when every ad came on during the Thanksgiving Day parade or the even longer parade of football games.

Eshoo’s family and those of the other nearly three dozen members of the House who have announced their retirements probably have Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on their lists. Gaetz and his fellow extreme Republicans brought down former Speaker Kevin McCarty (R-Calif.) and defeated two other candidates for Speaker before settling on Johnson.

In so doing, they made service in the House embarrassing and unbearable, leading to what could turn into a record number of retirements and members returning home to their families.

Political journalists should all have Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis on their lists. If those two, plus Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, were not contesting for the Republican nomination against all odds, the journalists would have nothing to cover in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the other early primary states.

While there really is no contest in the GOP, these candidates vying to be the alternative to Donald Trump have given journalists someone to cover.

Speaking of Trump, President Joe Biden should have him at the top of his list. Seriously.  Biden has received virtually no credit from the public for his considerable accomplishments during his nearly three years in office.

We can debate why that is so, and differ in our assessment of his time in office or who bears the blame for his poor approval ratings. But his ratings sit in the low 40s and he is running behind Trump in key states. The only reason he remains a viable candidate for reelection is Donald Trump.  

The Biden campaign is counting on focusing attention on Trump, what he did during his time as president (including appointing three justices to the Supreme Court whose votes led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 50-year precedent guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion), the outrageous things he has said and undoubtedly will say during the campaign, and his mounting legal troubles, which remain in the spotlight.

The Biden campaign would be in much worse trouble if it did not have Trump as a foil.

Actually, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) should have Trump on their list as well. Today’s Republican Party is Trump’s Republican Party. But while ultra-conservative populists might dominate the GOP, they remain very much a minority in much of the nation.

And therein lies the Democrats’ slim chance of retaining control of the Senate and their much more likely chance of regaining the majority in the House.

In state after state, district after district, MAGA Republicans are favored to win their party’s nomination, and the fate of Democratic senators like Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio rests on the Republicans nominating candidates far to the right of the average vote, leaving the moderates to join forces with Democrats.

The same is true in congressional districts across the nation. So again Trump is on Schumer’s and Jeffries’ lists.

Finally, while not an individual, we all should be grateful for the turning of the calendar year that is only a month away.

2023 has been a disaster in so many ways: devastating wars with American involvement if not troops in Ukraine and the Middle East; natural disasters throughout the nation; unimaginable human tragedy following mass shootings like the one in Lewiston (though they happen with such frequency that we all fear them coming close to our homes); a failure of government institutions that led to the House of Representatives unable to function at all for three weeks with government funding about to expire; an ex-President indicted on 91 criminal counts, yet leading the race for his party’s nomination.

The list could go on and on.

We deserve better, so let’s be thankful that 2024 is just around the corner, and hope that a year from now we can make a long list of those for whom we are grateful.

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L. Sandy Maisel

L. Sandy Maisel is the Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government (emeritus) at Colby College, where he taught for fifty years and served as the founding director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including From Obscurity to Oblivion: Running in the Congressional Primary, which chronicles his own unsuccessful campaign for Congress in Maine's first district. He and his wife, Colby professor Patrice Franko, live in Rome, Maine.
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