Be thankful for the work of our government

I wonder if this rain is going to make tomorrow’s Thanksgiving a little more difficult for some of us in Washington state. I worry about family and friends in transit to their intended Thanksgiving meals and holidays. I wonder if the floods will hold back or get worse. We don’t know if rail beds will give way, hills will shed their soil, and homes will slide away with local land slides.

But these instances of worry make me reflect on Thanksgiving, our annual celebration of family and friends. I’ll be happy to have both my adult kids at home with us this Thanksgiving. We can talk about how they are doing, how their work is going, what their plans and dreams are, are there any boyfriends or girlfriends on the horizon, have they been running, or playing Frisbee. They will want to know how their parents — my wife and me — are doing, about our work, our friends, and our plans. I am thankful for this, in addition to getting the chance to stuff and roast the turkey, and have a great meal together.

What makes Thanksgiving possible? Friends and family have to make the trip to their hosts for Thanksgiving. How? On well-engineered roads that can shed water and allow traffic to continue in downpours. In cars which are build according to government safety regulations. With the Washington State Patrol on call and doing overtime, making sure that cars don’t speed, and cleaning up after the ones that do and cause accidents.

Or maybe your Thanksgiving guests are going to fly in today or tomorrow. We just assume they will be safe, but really, this is thanks to the strict safety regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration, both for the planes and for the airports where they land. And, while most of us see the security checkpoints as simply a nuisance, Homeland Security protects us from terrorist attacks in the air and on the ground.

Forty years ago the private rail companies gave up providing passenger travel. Amtrak, created by the federal government, stepped into the lurch. Today, it provides transit for 16 million passengers a year. It is a care-free way to get from Seattle to Portland. You don’t have to worry about driving, and you can enjoy a beer as the miles tick by. I did this just yesterday, to get to some meetings in Portland and avoid the inevitable pre-Thanksgiving traffic jams.

So let’s hope that everyone makes it to Thanksgiving safe and sound. How about that turkey? You can rest assured that it is healthy to eat, thanks to the regulation and inspections of the Food and Drug Administration. Water from the tap? You can drink that without worry, thanks to public storage, treatment, and regulation by your local city.

So when we are thankful, it is good to look beyond our family and friends, and thank, or at the minimum, acknowledge, our governments at the local, state and federal level for making Thanksgiving possible. And we can be happy that those services and regulations and water and electricity are paid for by us, with our taxes. These services are not manna from heaven, nor should they be. They are something that we as citizens, make possible. And that is something for which to be thankful.

As I write this, the rain is pouring down. I still wonder … floods, hillsides collapsing, homes askew? Especially with natural disasters that wreck havoc, who do we look to? Exxon? Citibank? Apple? No, we look to our governments, to divert the water off of highways, to clean up after landslides, to rebuild public roads and rails, and help to finance private reconstruction through federal flood insurance.

Government isn’t for the 53 percent or the 47 percent or the 99 percent or the 1 percent. It is for all of us. It is made possible by all of us. We all pay taxes, whether that be sales taxes, or payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, or property taxes, or motor vehicle taxes, or income taxes. Taxes make government possible. Without government, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate Thanksgiving. So enjoy your family and friends, a quiet day for relaxation and reflection, maybe overeat just a bit, get some exercise, and be thankful. For family and friends. For living in America. For having a government of the people, by the people, for the people. For our democracy.

John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute ( He can be reached via email at

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