WASHINGTON -- This is the week when Americans gather together to express our gratitude to the Almighty for the blessings He has bestowed on this nation of inexhaustible abundance and freedom.
The pollsters tell us that Americans have never been more pessimistic about the country's direction, expressing deep disapproval of its leaders and institutions at all levels of government. And heaven knows we've got some troubles that have stretched our patience, from the Iraq war to a sharply polarized electorate whose political leaders can't seem to agree about anything on behalf of the common good.
Seen from the nation's capital, where politics is a blood sport fueled by nonstop bickering and backstabbing, things look pretty bleak. But public perceptions, shaped by a 24/7 news cycle that is overwhelmingly negative, can be misleading.
Go out into the country, and a very different picture emerges of the land we inhabit. Americans go to work each day to run our businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, churches and charities and everything in between. They work very hard -- and the productivity data backs this up -- and usually without rancor, guile or complaint. The atmosphere at a typical luncheon gathering of Kiwanis or Rotary clubs, and other community civic organizations, is one of fellowship, charity and tolerance -- in sharp contrast to the poisonous, self-absorbed climate we experience in the capital.
So perhaps this Thanksgiving week provides an opportunity to take stock of what's right with our country, instead of just focusing on what's wrong.
Certainly the war in Iraq has taken a turn for the better, with the levels of terrorist violence and civic unrest down sharply as a result of the U.S. troop surge. No one knows how long this relative calm will last, but there are signs that life in Iraq is improving as a result of our efforts to strengthen a democratic government in the midst of a violent and volatile region. Iraqis refugees are returning home. More Iraqis are signing up for the military and police. Baghdad is a far more stable capital than it once was, setting the scene for progress and reconciliation among its many political factions. Most important, if the lull in the fighting lasts, it means that some of our troops will be coming home sooner rather than later.
Here at home, we are blessed with a full-employment economy where more Americans are working than at any other time in our history. Indeed, we have labor shortages in many sectors -- from health care to technology to agriculture.
In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, where economies like those of China and India are exploding with growth, we remain the largest and most affluent economy on the planet.
We aren't getting poorer we're growing wealthier by every possible measurement. Our gross domestic product, the measure of everything we produce each year, is now up to $14 trillion and rising.
Real wages are up and take-home pay on a per capita basis has risen over 12 percent since President Bush took office.
We aren't manufacturing less, as many believe. More U.S. products are rolling off our assembly lines than ever before and we sell more too, both here and abroad. True, we do it with fewer factory workers, but that makes us more competitive and thus more productive.
We worry about the federal debt and some say we need to raise taxes to bring it down, a proposal that would have disastrous consequences for our economy and future job creation.
In fact, federal tax revenues have been flowing into the U.S. Treasury at record levels, reducing the budget deficit faster than anyone predicted.
A few years ago, with the nation dealing with multiple disasters, from terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina, the deficit was headed toward $400 billion dollars. But the budget deficit fell to $162 billion in fiscal 2007 and the Congressional Budget Office says it will fall further next year.
Despite the problems of declining home sales and the credit crunch, 70 percent of Americans own their homes, more than at any time in our history. No other nation comes close to that level of home ownership.
More than 50 percent of Americans now own stocks either directly or through mutual funds -- a remarkable personal stake in the U.S. economy that is unmatched anywhere on the globe.
Americans are an impatient, get-the-job-done kind of people. It is one of our most endearing qualities. And it is usually our nature to be optimistic about the future. But now we have grown darkly pessimistic about where we are as a nation when there are good reasons to feel genuine enthusiasm about who we are, what we've done and what we can still accomplish in the years ahead.
America has its share of problems. What country doesn't? But there are also many reasons to give thanks that we live in a blessed republic that, with all its faults, remains a land of everlasting opportunity. This Thanksgiving Day, America is still, in Ronald Reagan's words, that "shining city on a hill."