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On Labor Day

Three Cheers for the Honest Working Man

In 1941, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—the son of the oil magnate—took part in a radio broadcast on behalf of the USO and the National War Fund. His message was a statement of American principles designed to evoke support for the burgeoning war effort.

Speaking of war efforts, there is a joke in among the wry and slightly cynical veterans of my generation that the best way to add meaningless gravitas and false value to a point of argument is to open with “as a veteran.” In our post-9/11 age, veteran has become a currency of sorts. It is a status that is both shield and club, insulating us in a warm blanket of honor while offering the occasional chance to beat someone about the head with our views. Plus, I know that on at least two days a year I’m 100% unassailable and wholly venerated. As a veteran, I know this means we have a long-term lease on the bully pulpit.

I mention all this, somewhat strangely, because today is Labor Day. A good friend of mine—a former history instructor at West Point—made note of this the other morning. He pointed out that if you’re the type of person who demands endless thanks and praise for veterans twice a year but do not also stop to recognize that most of our wonderful, joyful way of life is owed to the lifelong toils of the average worker...well, you might be a bit shortsighted on the subject of America the beautiful.

While little of Rockefeller’s very long message is remembered, his list of beliefs was the subject of much reprinting over the years. Sometimes entitled I Believe or Life’s Credo, the set of principles he laid out came to symbolize for many people the fabric of life in the world’s great democracy. One line in particular stands out today:

“I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but owes every man the opportunity to make a living.”

As we navigate a murky political sea this fall, awash with the flotsam and jetsam of an angry electorate, we might do well to remember the things that bind us together. The virtues of hard work, honest effort, and our shared desire to make things just a bit better for our kids—so they don’t have to wear “irregular” Bugle Boy jeans from the outlet mall or, god forbid, worry about where their next meal might come from.

And we should give thanks for the everyday people who get up and keep this country running like a pretty damn fine machine. As a veteran, I know that I’m not doing the lion’s share of the work.

So on this Labor Day, I’d like to give thanks with right good cheer for the honest working man and woman.

For the guy who takes my trash away.

For the lawyer seeks justice and for his counterpart who protects the rights of the accused.

For the teachers who educate our eager young minds.

For the doctors and nurses who help us in our gravest hours.

For the gal who washes and grooms our beloved dogs (and cats, I guess).

For the engineers who ride the rails.

For the workers who toil to make cheap, reliable energy a given in our lives.

For the camera operators and technicians who bring us the Saturday spectacle of football.

For the police officers and firefighters and government workers who ensure we have a system of public services that is trustworthy and efficient.

For the moms who wash 734 loads of laundry per week without complaint.

For the people who make the wine for those moms.

And so on and so forth.

Wherever you find yourself today, commentariat, pat yourself on the back for your role in building and sustaining this truly fantastic American life. We couldn’t do it without you.

Or, if you’re a Northwestern fan, have your butler pat your back.