This year as we go around the table expressing thanks for friends, family, health, and home, I anticipate smirks (if not boos) when I add: "But, mostly I'm thankful for big government."
Yes, big government is usually just the bad guy who takes our money, constrains our options, and basically gets in the way. But, in light of the tremendous challenges facing our country, I am grateful for a government big enough to help us weather the storm.
So this year, I'll raise a glass to our very big government for:
• Stepping up in an emergency, one which market forces could not quickly correct, and investing an ungodly sum to keep the financial market running (or at least sputtering) along.
• Counting the votes of over 125 million Americans, more than have ever voted before. And then, where the results were really close, for counting them again.
• Smoothly transitioning power from some hands to others, with winners and losers determined by individual voters rather than riots, coups, or challenges to the legitimacy of the process.
• Insisting long-ago that we extend equal rights to women and minorities even when many of us were not quite ready to do so. And for providing a process for citizens, legislatures, and courts to puzzle through the similar civil rights issues of our day.
• Nurturing the seeds of innovative ideas, like early technologies underlying today's internet, new approaches to economic redevelopment in blighted neighborhoods, and scientific research in search of cures for all that afflict us.
• Investing in the long-range things that we were not focused on at the time, such as building the interstate highway system, establishing state college and university systems, and preserving land for national parks.
• Keeping us safe as we celebrate the holidays, not only by securing the homeland, but by regulating and monitoring the airplanes on which we fly, the cars in which we drive, the foods we enjoy, and the air we breathe.
• And for providing extra help at those points in life we need it most: when a hurricane hits, in the face of violent crime, or following a disabling accident, corporate "downsizing," or home foreclosure that left us with fewer options than before.
Of course government isn't perfect -- quite far from it. And on another day I will again join with its critics. But today, as I inventory my thanksgivings, high on that list are the many quiet ways that government enables me to live my very blessed life.
Elizabeth Rigby, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston and a Research Affiliate at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia University. A (slightly different) version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday November 23, 2008. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6126840.html