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This was a holiday to remember

Joe Licandro | Wednesday, December 3, 2003

This last Thanksgiving holiday is one that I will not soon forget – at least not in the span of the next 24 hours because I went from seeing America at its best to America at its worst. To be perfectly honest, last Thursday was shaping up to be just like any other turkey day. Like every other American, I planned to stuff myself to the gills with corn pudding, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and all the other great Thanksgiving fair. After about three, four or maybe even five trips through the family buffet line with my stomach on the verge of exploding, I would finally say enough is enough. Now weighing 10 pounds heavier than the day before, it was time for the only exercise of the day. Somehow I would muster the energy to get up from my chair at the dining table, walk 10 feet to lie down on the couch and then let the tryptophan kick into high gear. There is nothing like falling asleep in front of the Dallas Cowboys game. Only this year was different; this year my favorite holiday was a little more special than usual. Instead of falling asleep, I stayed awake flipping between all the major news networks hoping to catch footage from President Bush’s historic visit to Iraq. I probably watched it 50 times – President Bush popping out from behind the stage at the military barracks in Baghdad to surprise the U.S. troops eagerly awaiting their Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing him actually sit behind the buffet line and serve the troops their turkey is what makes our nation truly unique. While he might hold the highest office in the land, George W. Bush is no better or worse than any other American. Like him or not, you have to respect President Bush for putting himself in harm’s way to thank the troops for their bravery and sacrifice. No, the President was not on the front lines like the troops he sent to Iraq who confront violent threats every single day. However there is still a tremendous amount of risk involved in successfully carrying out this secret mission. As the tragic events from this past month have painfully reminded us, the security situation in Iraq remains shaky. The evil terrorists crawling in Iraq could have potentially fired a missile at Air Force One as it landed on the runway at Baghdad International Airport or attacked the military envoy escorting President Bush to the marine barracks. The bottom line is that President Bush did not have to travel to Iraq. Contrary to Will Ferrell’s brilliant impersonations from Saturday Night Live a few years back, “W” is not a robot who just follows orders from his father, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or his dog Barney. The decision was entirely his own. This was not just some outlandish political stunt to convince the American people to reelect him as his harshest critics have suggested, but a genuine way for President Bush to express his gratitude and to rally the American people behind the troops finishing the job in Iraq. If the trip helped him politically, then so be it. But the way things are going with a resurgent economy, last week’s passage of a Medicare reform bill, and a Democratic Party ripping apart at the seams, President Bush does not seem to need a whole lot of help these days. Who would not want a President willing to throw himself into the fray to stand alongside the troops he has called upon to fight America’s war against terror? All of the warm sentimental feelings from Thursday’s unforgettable Thanksgiving were dampened the next day when I learned about an unfortunate incident at a Wal-Mart in Orange City, Florida. According to news reports, 41 year-old Patricia Van Lester sustained a concussion when fellow shoppers knocked her to the floor in a mad rush to buy a $29 dollar DVD player. A short time later, paramedics found VanLester lying unconscious on top of the prized DVD Player. After the incident, Linda Ellzey told the press how other shoppers remained completely oblivious to her fallen sister’s condition. “She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants,” Ellzey said. While this incident in no way negated the power of Thursday’s historic events, it unfortunately captured what is wrong with America. In some ways, it is almost comical that grown adults would act like little children fighting over a toy. But truthfully, it is downright pathetic. We now live in a culture that has grown so materialistic that people actually risk their lives shopping for Christmas presents. Admittedly, visiting the malls the day after Thanksgiving has become a holiday in and of itself for many Americans, but you should not have to wear a helmet to feel safe at Wal-Mart. Not to get sappy, but I fear that people have forgotten that Christmas is a religious holiday. I am no theologian, but I am pretty confident that people biting and scratching each other to buy Christmas presents was not what Jesus had in mind as a way for people to celebrate his birthday. Despite this incident, I still remain hopefully optimistic that the Christmas spirit still hides somewhere in America today. It just might take President Bush to dip into his bag of tricks again to find it.

Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu The views expresses in the column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.