Abraham Lincoln acknowledged in his 1863 proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving that it was hard for many Americans to be thankful "in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity."
While he sought the Almighty's blessings for the care of "all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners and sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged," there were reasons to be grateful, too, he said. For the nation's growing industry, agricultural abundance, and a "large increase of freedom" he foresaw in the years to come.
Nearly a century and a half later, America is in the midst of yet another era of great political division worsened by a recession of unusual length, breadth and severity. And an executive and legislative government perceived by many to be dysfunctional, incompetent, or worse.
Our nation is burdened with a crushing $15 trillion debt and hundreds of trillions more in unfunded liabilities that threaten future generations with fewer opportunities and a lower standard of living.
We are heading into the fourth year of a weak, jobless economy that has been unable to shake off its lethargy as easily as it has in the past. Twenty-six million of us are either unemployed or so underemployed that they cannot make ends meet.
Poverty levels have shot up to over 15 percent of the population, hunger is a growing, stark reality in our land, and, for the first time since the Great Depression, people here and abroad are talking about an America in decline.
The Gallup Poll regularly monitors the national mood and economic health of the country in its daily tracking polls and its numbers paint a disturbing picture on this Day of Thanksgiving. Here's what they told us this week:
-- The Economic Condition of the Country:
Excellent-to-Good: 11 percent.
Poor: 52 percent.
-- Economic Outlook:
Getting Better: 22 percent.
Getting Worse: 73 percent
-- Life Evaluations:
Thriving: 50 percent
Struggling: 46 percent.
This is why American have grown a great deal more pessimistic about the direction of the economy and are understandably tightening their belt if they can still afford one.
The Conference Board, a private economic research group, reported recently that consumer confidence fell in October to its lowest point since the depths of the Great Recession in March of 2009.
It is not hard to understand why confidence has fallen in the third year of Barack Obama's presidency. With the national unemployment rate at 9 percent or more, and government and business forecasters saying the job market isn't likely to improve anytime soon, Americans have a lot to be glum about.
The administration said last month that the economy was growing at 2.5 percent in the third quarter, after it had nearly stopped breathing altogether in the first half of this year. As modest as that is, the national news media said it was proof that the economy was finally on the comeback trail.
But the Commerce Department revised its GDP forecast downward Tuesday, saying the economy had inched up by a mediocre 2 percent between July and September that was far too weak to make a serious dent in the jobless rate. Worse, it moved us dangerously closer to a double-dip recession if the European debt crisis spills over into our own economy.
We need to create 13.4 million jobs over the next three years, or between 300,000 and 400,000 jobs a month to drive unemployment down to 6 percent. That's not going to happen under Obama's failed spending stimulus policies -- now or ever.
Without new tax cut incentives to unlock frozen venture capital investment to expand existing businesses, start up new enterprises, boost domestic oil production, and begin to negotiate new fast track trade agreements, the Obama economy is going nowhere.
Making matters worse is the political intransigence of the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid has blocked GOP tax incentives to get the economy moving again.
A GOP tax initiative in the debt-reduction committee to end a number of deductions, credits and loopholes would have raised revenues, while cutting tax rates for business and workers. That trade off would have broken the logjam on a $1.2 trillion deficit-cutting deal. Democrats rejected the plan and the talks collapsed.
But there are good reasons to believe that help is on the way and that the economy can be turned around with the right pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-investment policies
We are in a great political struggle between two sharply competing philosophies. One wants to raise taxes in order to grow the government. The other wants to lower taxes to grow the economy and make this the land of opportunity again.
Unfortunately, we may not see the end to dysfunctional government until after the 2012 election when ace election tracker Charlie Cook says Republicans will likely take over the Senate and hold the House.
Nevertheless, despite our deep divisions and economic challenges, there's still very much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving.
We live in the freest, richest, most productive country on Earth, a nation that is still the shining beacon of liberty, security and hope in a very dangerous world.
As Lincoln said on Oct. 3, 1863, it is fitting and proper that this day "should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people."
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