In separate Thanksgiving addresses to the nation, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), head of the House Republican Conference, offered up the usual optimistic Thanksgiving platitudes about being grateful, caring for others, spending time with family and recognizing the commonality that makes Americans who they are.
But despite the appeals for solidarity, the two speeches offered a snapshot of where each side stands on its respective priorities and visions for where the country is now and where it should go next.
Very early in his speech, the president attacked head-on the results of the last presidential election, which, he said, “required us to make choices -- and sometimes those choices led us to focus on what sets us apart instead of what ties us together; on what candidate we support instead of what country we belong to.”
After addressing this divisiveness directly, Obama used Hurricane Sandy to address a larger, ongoing ideological debate about the role of government in the lives of citizens. He applauded the efforts of the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as private-citizen responders, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“It would have been easy for these folks to do nothing -- to worry about themselves and leave the rest to someone else. But that’s not who we are. That’s not what we do,” he said in a speech laden with rhetoric about how Americans work hard, pull each other up, and enjoy “opportunities to give back.”
Both the president and the Republican’s top ranking female member of Congress expressed sympathy and solidarity with Sandy’s victims in the Northeastern United States, but the GOP’s speech was more ominous, with references to impending policy issues.
After conjuring up the Republican Party’s most famous historical figure -- Abraham Lincoln -- McMorris claimed that her party has “reached out to President Obama in the hope of working together to help our economy grow and solve the debt that threatens our children’s future.”
“The clock is ticking,” she warned, pointing specifically to the impending expiration of President George W. Bush's tax cuts, and to the social welfare entitlements her party claims are bankrupting America.
“At a time of so much economic suffering, raising taxes would have a devastating impact on small businesses and our economy,” she said. “We can’t let this happen.”
The two sides are currently facing a raft of tough decisions regarding next year's tax rates and impending automatic across-the-board spending cuts.