Obama's America of Low Expectations

We live in an age of leftover expectations

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They say the best thing about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. This American adage may be especially true in the hard times the nation faces, beyond cranberry sauce and stuffing. The phrase that surfaces often in "all the news that's fit to print" is living in an age of lowered expectations—as opposed to the optimistic spirit of great expectations which we once embraced. Curbed expectations rule, for example, when the powers that be sigh with relief that the joblessness rate has not yet hit 10 percent. President Obama's America is not a happy place.

So in the reduced circumstances of 2011, let's be grateful for small favors and pleasures. An attitude of gratitude, as a new saying goes, is being invited to occupy our souls.

[Read: Abraham Lincoln and the First Thanksgiving]

Okay, I'll try the modest art of making more of less, savoring leftovers from slices and dishes of November. The best leftovers at our table took you back to Kansas in my grandmother's day—a delectable chocolate cake from a recipe that she and her three sisters baked for the men who worked summers at her family's wheat ranch in Sterling. My second cousin Amy made the mouth-watering confection. To taste a bite of that bygone era gave me a surge of sustenance, like I was made of strong stuff.

Flying back east, I felt a stab of gratitude when the airport Homeland Security body pat-down was not as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps my fellow travelers shared that thin gruel with me.

[See a collection of political cartoons on airport security.]

On a large scale, if we're angry about Joe Paterno's reign as the Penn State football patriarch for years after allegations of child abuse by an assistant coach surfaced, then take heart. His last season ended in a hard rain and a decisive defeat in Wisconsin. The rough justice of the gridiron spoke plainly. My Dad and I enjoyed seeing the Wisconsin Badgers win at Camp Randall, dealing a just dessert and last course for Paterno on the playing field (though he had had resigned in disgrace and was not there in person.) Going forward, the Penn State football program no longer has his tainted name on it. An investigation into a possible sex scandal and institutional corruption will probe his legal culpability, but disillusioned masses of fans can at least start to bury the fallen father figure.

If you're glum about the congressional committee not coming to a deal to cut the deficit, not to worry. Its formation last summer was the last stand Obama took in a misguided belief that Republicans would work with him for the good of the country. At least some Republicans and Democrats in Congress actually know each others' names now, a small blow for civility. And to have senators and congressmen sitting down in the same room is quite unheard of.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the deficit super committee.]

If you're bummed about the war in Afghanistan, hey, the war in Iraq is coming to an end after thousands of deaths and a trillion or two dollars was sucked out of the economy. A war foisted on the world by a president whose name shall remain nameless.

See how it works? If you're missing Bill Clinton's presidency of peace and prosperity, look at it this way. At least there's one Clinton in the top echelon of the United States government. If you're a Catholic struggling with the new Mass translation with a weird word like "consubstantial," maybe it's time to let Rome go home and take a vow of silence for a while.

Looking ahead in the holiday season, The New York Times warns us to brace ourselves, for the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena won't have as many blooms as usual. In another story sign of the times, the paper reports that men training to be Santa Clauses are coached on how to handle children's requests for lavish toys and gifts in a time of limited means. They're told to expect children asking for a parent to get a job for Christmas.

[See photos of Black Friday shopping.]

Yet it was a Los Angeles woman's frank personal ad in The New York Review of Books that caught my eye and seemed to sum it all up:

Formerly pretty, formerly slender 69 years retired woman, out of shape, overweight, never married, terrified of commitment, blue-eyed grey and brown-haired independent woman seeks independent man. I'd ask for fit and handsome but let's be real. Must have a sense of humor, read a lot, passionate about eating, napping, my sweet doggie and a low energy lifestyle.

Let's be real. This lady is riding the wave of the Zeitgeist, out in front of Santa Claus. I hope she finds what she's looking for.