President Obama’s critics would have us believe that his agenda is too ambitious, perhaps even too radical. The president is asking too much of the American people.
In fact, he is asking too little—especially when it comes to his official pronouncements.
Instead of using his first Thanksgiving Proclamations of 2009 and 2010 to renew the tradition of the country’s most activist presidents and actually speak to the nation about where it should be headed±and to Americans about what they could do to shape a better world—Obama has for two years running recycled the predictable pronouncements of George W. Bush. If fairness, the forty-fourth president has included fewer references to God than did his predecessor, while adding notes regarding “the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our Nation.”
But Obama’s proclamations are more perfunctory than inspirational. The problem is not so much with the current president as with the people who manage “communications” in the White House. In recent decades, they have narrowed the definition of acceptable communications regarding Thanksgiving. It is permissible to engage in the performance art of “pardoning” the White House turkey. And it is now common practice to blur the lines of separation of church and state, as it is to deify former Presidents Washington and Lincoln.
But when it comes do encouraging people to do anything more than get together for a nice meal, however, everything goes vague. Bush reminded folks to be “mindful of the need to share our gifts with others, and our Nation is moved to compassionate action. We pay tribute to all caring citizens who reach out a helping hand and serve a cause larger than themselves.” Obama encourages us “to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own; and to share our bounty with others.”
Contrast the tepid offerings of recent years with the muscular statements of Franklin Roosevelt, who opened his final Thanksgiving Proclamation with a reference to 1944 as “this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule…” and made a powerful plea for religious diversity and tolerance. “Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved,” declared Roosevelt.