Politics & Policy

All-American Cornucopia of Gratitude

My Southern Thanksgiving with Phyllis Schlafly on the Cayman Islands

I’ve spent the last week on a fundraising cruise for National Review. We dropped by the Cayman Islands, Grand Turk, and Cozumel. (I gather there are harder jobs.) There were 800-some people listening to seminars, meeting one another, and sharing gratitude for people and principles they hold dear.

We also passed by Cuba. Usually a late riser, our Cuban-exile cruiser says he was given “a gift from God” when he found himself awake, only to look out and see the country he fled as a youth. A flood of memories came back — and a dream that a future cruise might bring him home. He was seeing his homeland for the first time in 51 years.

He was so grateful. More than bitterness or sadness, he felt gratitude.

#ad#This whole ship has been full of gratitude. The midterm elections saw some right-leaning wins, and this is a right-leaning crowd. Speaker-to-be Boehner’s position became a little more official while the USS NR was on the water. Mitch McConnell listened to the Tea Party movement and embraced an end to earmarks. There is gratitude for these things. (You don’t have to think that earmark reform is the be-all and end-all to recognize that it was an issue in this election.) And, as the health-care legislation showed, going from a Washington that wasn’t listening to American voters to a Washington that feels a new sense of responsibility toward them is a very good thing, and we can be grateful for it

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all the more so because it happened so peacefully.

And there’s more. There is gratitude for people who highlight and battle for good things — in life and politics — those who fight for truth, justice, human dignity, fiscal sanity, and sustainability when manipulation is so overwhelming.

There is gratitude for those who have been true trailblazers. Liberal feminists are forever honoring their heroines’ victories in the face of supposed oppression. But one woman who was among the first to graduate from Harvard is missing from their list of honorees. The Senate had passed the Equal Rights Amendment 84 to 8. The House had passed it 354 to 23. Thirty states had approved it the first year it was up for ratification, and only eight more states were needed. The ERA was going to be the next constitutional amendment.

Except it wouldn’t be. Because Phyllis Schlafly stopped it.

She was a Mama Grizzly long before John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. I’m not sure that grizzly bears are all that comfortable in St. Louis, where she was born. But comfortable is one thing that Schlafly definitely is: comfortable that she is known for stopping the ERA, comfortable that she fought feminists on their turf — with class. She’s a lady, and when she saw threats to marriage and family being pushed by the ERA and its proponents, she would have none of it.

We have a lot to thank her for — including being a lady who modeled fearlessness in politics, even while being attacked as a self-hating woman who deserved to be burned at the stake.

I often find myself debating feminists, arguing about feminism and how it has made the world worse. I’m frequently told that I am an ungrateful, um, witch (except now that’s actually the word they use). That I have Gloria Steinem to thank for the fact that I’m even allowed to have an opinion, never mind get paid for having them. Well, I am grateful for Schlafly, a woman who has succeeded in politics and debate without walking away from faith, family, or femininity.

Other people I’ve been talking to are grateful that they have a constitutional system worth protecting — and people who are willing to say it is worth protecting.

And there is gratitude for enduring institutions. Even as Nancy Pelosi was thanking God for the liberal religious sisters who bucked up her dangerous health-care legislation, the Catholic bishops’ conference showed it understands that this is no time for business as usual in the church bureaucracy. Breaking with tradition and seniority, they passed over the next in line and went with a leader who has helped train and inspire an orthodox, faithful army of young priests who are willing to take on the lies of a culture of death. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, based on Fifth Avenue, now has a second leadership base in our nation’s capital as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I’m certainly grateful for that.

On this fundraising cruise, I have seen true gratitude for these things and so much more. Although we held panels and had book signings and were all about politics, it was impossible not to notice that people cared about much more than that. Children were front and center. There was a gratitude for life, and an appreciation that politics is not an end in itself. The celebration over the midterm elections was supremely moderate in that way.

And on the Cayman Islands, when I stopped by a perpetual-adoration chapel at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, I was grateful to be reminded that whatever is going on, someone, somewhere is on his knees in prayer. Men in the middle of their work day, students dropping by for a word, young women between meetings. Even on a random Thursday afternoon, they were there. The Thursday before the holiday Americans dedicate to gratitude. If you need any inspiration on that day, think of a Cuban exile on a cruise ship, snapping photos, seeing old memories flash before him, with only gratitude. And hope that the freedom he enjoys in the United States may someday reach there.

Have a happy Thanksgiving this week. And every day.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.

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