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Obama’s Thankless Thanksgiving

Posted on Nov 25, 2009
AP / Alex Brandon

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

It’s now official: So in vogue are attacks on President Barack Obama that even his proclamation calling the nation to a day of Thanksgiving has become the focus of criticism.

Presidential Thanksgiving messages are a routine bit of executive prose that most attentive citizens happily ignore in this moment of national gratitude. But the sky-is-falling mood that now pervades Obama commentary couldn’t let this 435-word document pass without a few sniffs of disapproval.

The Gawker Web site called it an “uninspiring first effort from our most literary president” and expressed hope that he would spend “a little more time on it next year.” Politico damned it with faint analysis—it was “basic” and “brief” and “tread lightly” to avoid controversy.

Mostly, the message reiterated familiar Obama themes of diversity, community and service. The opening line referred to Thanksgiving as “a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities,” and Obama called attention to “the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our Nation.”

The holiday was also “a time for us to renew our bonds with one another, and we can fulfill that commitment by serving our communities and our Nation throughout the year.”


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Maybe they’ll surprise me, but I’m willing to bet that a right-wing talk jock near you will soon be declaring the “indigenous communities” reference to be “un-American,” and the call to service to be yet another shout-out to “socialism.” We’ll also hear that the document never uses the word “prayer,” and that its one nod to God is in a quotation from George Washington (unless you count its mention of “houses of worship,” and the “year of Our Lord” in the date).

Yes, I’m afraid things have gotten so vexed for Obama that Thanksgiving itself has become thankless. As it happens, that proclamation is revealing, but not necessarily in the ways his critics are likely to suggest. 

You wonder if Obama will use this brief respite for reflection to ponder how, in a year, he has been transformed from a man once seen as capable of parting raging seas to the object of a terrible hatred on the right and mild disappointment among his allies. His opponents are on the march, his friends are grumpy.

Obama might fairly repair to the comforting thought that he inherited an unparalleled combination of disasters in the economy and foreign policy, and created such a surge of hope that he was expected, unrealistically, to have put everything right by now.

He will eventually get to claim a great victory on health care. He helped the country avoid financial catastrophe. And isn’t he doing pretty well in the polls, given the afflictions of unemployment and other forms of economic carnage?

This line of thinking animates the White House. Obama’s aides say it reflects a side of him that many have found attractive: a cool, detached confidence in the long term that refuses to be disturbed by passing controversies and criticisms.

Yet there is a lesson for the president in the rote quality of his Thanksgiving proclamation that is significant only because it reveals Obama’s underlying problem: What the document lacked was any sense of fighting spirit, any larger purpose, any gauntlet thrown down before his foes.

Contrast it with a Thanksgiving message Franklin D. Roosevelt offered in 1934 that was unapologetic in declaring his political goals. “Our sense of social justice has deepened,” Roosevelt insisted. “We have been given vision to make new provisions for human welfare and happiness, and in a spirit of mutual helpfulness we have cooperated to translate vision into reality. ... We can truly say, ‘What profiteth it a nation if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul.’ ”

A year later, Roosevelt was at it again. “We can be grateful,” he wrote, “that selfish purpose of personal gain, at our neighbor’s loss, less strongly asserts itself.”

Roosevelt was no less pragmatic than Obama. He, too, was attacked demagogically as a “socialist,” and was equally loathed by his adversaries.

Yet Roosevelt was a “happy warrior,” a phrase he used about Al Smith that actually described FDR himself. He relished taking the fight to his enemies, once boasting: “I welcome their hatred.”

Obama will have more to be grateful for next Thanksgiving if he accepts that his foes intend to fight him for the next three years. He needs to discover the joy that FDR took in fighting back, even in official documents that normally pass unnoticed.
E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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Virginia777's avatar

By Virginia777, November 26, 2009 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment

First of all, I am not going to respond to anything tropicgirl (or ardee) say, they are constantly hurling harsh, unfair insults at Obama here on Truthdig and yes, I completely suspect their motives.

As to the others, this is ridiculous:

“When you attack Obama, you attack wall street and corporate America. When you defend Obama, you defend wall street and corporate America”

What a load of bullshit, I think this commentator is stuck back in time and still nursing the wounds of the Bush days. I am sorry for you.

But I am much more sorry for the Left, which is allowing itself to wallow in cynicism, and not take this REAL opportunity to mobilize and see their issues and agendas finally met.

Are things not dire enough for you? oh well. The rest of us are trying to make things better.

And again I say, this is suicide!! and I can only hope that Truthdig commentators do not represent the true left in the country, which most likely, has gotten as sick as I have of all the pettiness and waste of time here,

and found another blog to write on.

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By Dr. Venkman, November 26, 2009 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here, Here!

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By Mary Ann McNeely, November 26, 2009 at 11:44 am Link to this comment

Obama is our National Landfill.  The garbage just keeps piling up, including this piece of boilerplate BS.

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By tropicgirl, November 26, 2009 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“”...Obama’s aides say it reflects a side of him that many have found attractive:
a cool, detached confidence in the long term that refuses to be disturbed by
passing controversies and criticisms…”“

This is what the WH sees.

What the people see is a self-centered, myopic, inexperienced by choice,
barker, dishonest liar who has absolutely no sympathy for other people’s lives,
children, future, who is eager to be used by anyone and everyone, and has an
incredible fetish to make his unimportant family famous, and himself, any way
he can, and for absolutely no accomplishment that anyone can identify.

I hope he continues in his ignorance and E.J. as an enabler. That will make the
final fall so deserved. And then, those servicemen, who are not yet dead, but
soon will be in Afghanistan, to stoke his limp noodle, will be revenged.

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By melpol, November 26, 2009 at 10:56 am Link to this comment

Over two million inmates in American prisons have little to be thankful for. But
they should be thankful to taxpayers for the turkey dinner that will be served in
every prison throughout the nation. After reading SNITCHING by Alexandra
Natapoff I was Awakened. Her discovery that two out of three young blacks were
turned into snitches was shocking. It helps explain why the arrest rate among
blacks is so high,and why so many inmates are black. Snitches should not be
excused, After pointing the finger most become bigger criminals. Crime fighting
has become a circus. Arrests are as easy as shooting fish in a pond. The war on
drugs must be ended. If not, America will be turned into a totalitarian nightmare.

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amunaor's avatar

By amunaor, November 26, 2009 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

***Obama called attention to “the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our Nation.”***

Excuse me! I think the Native Americans; the indigenous population, were overwhelmed by superior fire-power (WMD). The few remnants that are left, continue to live out their existence as museum pieces, in refugee camp - reservations. Let us stop mythologizing the invasion and remember Wounded Knee as we stuff our faces with ‘Perdues’ and ‘Butter-Balls’

Peace, Best Wishes and Hope

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no mans land's avatar

By no mans land, November 26, 2009 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

Virginia777 wrote:

“its the suicide of the Left, as it wallows in cynicism, while the extreme right charges in…”

That’s because there is no “left wing” being represented. There is only the theatrics of populism. If the public option stands, I’ll gladly eat my words. However, I wholly expect Reid to stand in front of us the day befor the vote and tell us how hard they tried for a public option, but they just couldn’t muster the votes. Even if it does remain, we can be certain that any public program that survives the corporatism of both Dems and Repubs will be so ineffectual that the people will become utterly disenfranchised with the ineptitude of their government programs once more. In the mean time, Obama is sitting back quietly. If it fails, he can claim plausible deniability in that wasn’t “his” program, but congress’. That is not the move of someone bent on changing the system. There is only one party: The Corporate Party, and it has mastered the art of spectacle.

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, November 26, 2009 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

“Obama-bashing is the ‘sucide of the left’.”

Well, at least that might be the funniest thing I’ll read all thanksgiving day.  smile

First, notice the propaganda technique. Its exactly the same one used by Bush and the Republicans where anyone who was critical of Bush was accused of ‘bush-bashing’.  Same technique.  Probably the same operatives.  Or at least they studied next to each other in the same school.

Also, the whole bit about the ‘suicide of the left’ assumes that Obama is a part of the left. But, what on earth would make anyone think that Obama is a part of the ‘left’?

—is it his escalation of the wars that makes him a part of the left?
—is it his giving of trillions to wall street that makes him a part of the left?
—is it his fake ‘health reform’ effort that will only block reform until 2013, and then give corporations billions in mandated customers and a P0 billion taxpayer bailout that makes Obama a part of the left?
—is it his protection of all Bush and corporate criminals that makes Obama a part of the left?
—is it his continuation and expansion of domestic spying that makes Obama a part of the left?

The only thing that makes anyone thing that Obama is a part of the left is the campaign of lies that Obama told back in the Dem primaries to get the nomination.  Obama needed votes to the left of Hillary to win, so he lied and pretended to be leftist.  The really weird part is that given a solid track record of what he’s really done, versus this stack of lies that Obama told a year ago, the weird part is that anyone still believes the lies and thus still believes that Obama has anything to do with the left.

When you attack Obama, you attack wall street and corporate America. When you defend Obama, you defend wall street and corporate America.

Which side are you on?

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, November 26, 2009 at 9:31 am Link to this comment

Obama’s campaign broke all records for fundraising in the last election.  The $700 million or so that flowed into his campaign easily broke the old Bush record of $500 million or so.

Much of this money was corporate money.  Wall street was especially noted for funding Wall street with key early millions that he needed to establish himself as a ‘serious’ candidate in the race.  Remember, the early conventional wisdom was that Obama was only running in 2008 to establish his name for a 2012 run.  It was the millions in corporate dollars that he raised in 2007 that changed the perception of Obama to one of contender.

And now what, people expect him to sell out the people who made him president once he’s in office?

To realize how silly this sounds, think about this. Obama and all the leading Democrats are right now spending hours out of each day doing fund-raising for the 2010 and 2012 elections. In other words, they are calling up the same people who gave them millions last time and asking for millions more. Right now.

Do you think that Obama and the Democrats are going to stiff the people who gave them millions to put them in power while at exactly the same time they are calling them back asking for more millions in the next election.

For citizens, there’s a simple rule.  Don’t vote for the candidates that have money. They’ve been bought.  The easiest version of this rule is to not vote for the candidates you see on TV.  It took money to put them on TV, and if they have money, they will serve those who gave it to them if elected.

Never vote for a candidate that you see on TV.

The candidate that will represent you will be the broke candidate who needs to ask his supporters for a ride in from the airport.

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Virginia777's avatar

By Virginia777, November 26, 2009 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

you got that right, E.J. Dionne, Obama-bashing IS in “vogue”

its the suicide of the Left, as it wallows in cynicism, while the extreme right charges in…

time to Wake Up!!

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By SaveTheTenth, November 26, 2009 at 6:40 am Link to this comment

On this uncertain Thanksgiving, us proles should remember…

While our manufacturing base was sold out, our wealth stolen in front of our faces and given to the thiefs, and our foreign policy hijacked by dirty bloodsuckers,

Dionne gets paid for this.

Ignorance is strength. EJ, you’re wanted in room 101. There’s a special turkey for you.

“, in a year, he has been transformed from a man once seen as capable of parting raging seas ...”


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no mans land's avatar

By no mans land, November 26, 2009 at 6:31 am Link to this comment

A nation of “GWs”

The people got what they voted for in Obama: a centrist pragmatic that is not George W. Bush and speaks well. If the people who voted for him had actually read his platform and listened to the subtle clues during the campaign, they would see that he is governing exactly as he said he would. It first became clear to me when Jeremy Scahill asked him if he would end military contracting and Obama gave the very “pragmatic” answer that it was necessary given our current situation and military. Obama harnessed the populist anger that was building throughout the Bush years without ever challenging the very machinations that enabled our deepest grievances.

While I believe that all presidents grow and learn as they govern, I do not expect Obama to have any populist epiphany that leads him to embrace the good fight. For him to turn his back on the dispassionate pragmatism that got him this far is for him to bite the hand that fed him all these years. The problem with pragmatism is that it often translates into a cold, systems-analyst sort of logic. Just ask Dick Cheney. After all, the free market is based on the worhsip and pragmatism of cold, hard productivity in the first place, is it not? Then ask yourselves why there is but a sliver of daylight between the policies of 2008 and those of 2009. The answer? We voted with our collective “gut” instead of listening to what we were being told. Had we done that, we would have seen that there was never any real challenge to the status quo in Obama.

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By ardee, November 26, 2009 at 4:20 am Link to this comment

That our political reality is one of schism, partisanship that transcends reality, nothing more noble than naked grabs for power at the cost of truth and honesty, seems real enough.

We are a divided people, far too many of us are disinterested or alienated from a process that attracts only the angry and the shortsighted. We are a frustrated people as well, one for whom government has become as Reagan prophesized, no friend to any of us, and worked to make such. But, while Ronald Wilson Reagan began, in my opinion, our slide from true democratic process, the blame is not entirely his.

Obama is reaping what he has sown for these last ten months, a lack of strong leadership, a waffling on the issues, a continual reaching out to those who care not one whit for bipartisanship but seek only to regain the seat of power, the one they so horribly abused for the eight years of Bush 43.

With a majority in both Houses, with the White House as a bully pulpit Barack Obama demonstrates only weakness, inexperience and slavish devotion to exactly the wrong forces in our nation. Thus we the people suffer for it.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, November 26, 2009 at 1:22 am Link to this comment

There are of course people who are very thankful for the Obama presidency.

—The big wall street firms of course top the list.  They are thankful that they’ve been given trillions of tax payer dollars, while at the same time being shielded from prosecutions for the frauds they’ve committed.

—For the big health corporations, insurance, hospital and big pharma, perhaps its a little early to give thanks, but soon they expect to be very thankful to the Democrats for shielding them from the popular calls for reform up until 2013. 

—The generals can be thankful as the wars continue to escalate and expand.  Everything a growing general could want.  More troops, more money, more everything.

—The former Bush officials who might have feared prosecutions for their crimes are of course thankful for the protection that Obama has given them.

The problem the Democrats have, and the reason why sometimes they seem stilted and inarticulate, is that they simply can’t say what they are really doing.  Obama can’t just sit there and say how thankful he is that these people gave him millions so he could be President and give them back trillions and the wars they wanted. 

So, at times he seems a bit inarticulate as he struggles to find the the right lies to tell the American people.  Plus, who knows, maybe the entire ‘lie-to-the-American-people dept’ took the whole week off for a long holiday.  They’ve certainly earned it after a year of very hard work from them.

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By Aaron Ortiz, November 26, 2009 at 12:50 am Link to this comment

This is another article that reveals the unappropriate name “Truthdig” for a site that presents only one side of issues.

A little diversity and variety to points of view expressed here would be refreshing.

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By Filler Crowley, November 25, 2009 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment

...and created such a surge of hope that he was expected, unrealistically, to have put everything right by now.

All right, this is a meme that has to die. Who are these mythical people who were expecting Obama to redeem us instantly? I’ve never met, heard about, or read anything by one of these people, but apparently they’re a fucking epidemic.

The day cannot come soon enough when the Washington Post goes out of business and Dionne is out on his ass.

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