President Obama has produced a credible, if not exactly inspired Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Most of the statement relies on the usual boilerplate language employed by our recent presidents, although Obama’s message is a bit more anthropological than those of his predecessors – referring to the first Thanksgiving as “a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities.”
The president also tosses in some universalism: “As Americans, we hail from every part of the world. While we observe traditions from every culture, Thanksgiving Day is a unique national tradition we all share. Its spirit binds us together as one people, each of us thankful for our common blessings.”
And, of course, there’s the call “to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own; and to share our bounty with others.”
When all is said and done, however, Obama’s proclamation is no more poetic, and no more adventurous, than those issued by George W. Bush.
For Americans who think that Obama ought to use the bully pulpit more ably than his immediate predecessor, that’s disappointing.
Obama ought not be carrying on where Bush left off.
Rather, he should be renewing the tradition of his boldest predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Unlike most presidents, Roosevelt recognized the annual writing of the Thanksgiving Proclamation as much more than a perfunctory task. Each of the 32nd president’s dozen proclamations was unique, and as his tenure progressed, Roosevelt used them to express the values of the New Deal and the internationalist struggle against fascism.
Roosevelt broke what for his time was new ground with his statements, using them to teach about religious diversity and to decry racial and ethnic divisions. As an example, Roosevelt’s proclamation for Thanksgiving Day, 1941, appealed for “the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice…”
But the 32nd president’s most persistent theme in his Thanksgiving Proclamations was the need to develop a new economic order.
Roosevelt’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation, penned in the depths of the Great Depression, declared:
May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors.