A Reflective Bush Gives Thanks, A Little Early

Monday, November 19th 2007, 11:11 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Presidents tend to honor Thanksgiving with routine proclamations, radio addresses that always sound the same, and pardons for a couple of lucky turkeys. No disrespect to tradition, but President Bush elevated it a bit on Monday.

First he stopped by a food bank here, a former tobacco warehouse that has been converted into a highly organized distribution center that sends millions of pounds of groceries to needy families each year. The visit to the Central Virginia Foodbank underscored a quiet problem _ 35 million people in this country went hungry in 2006.

Bush walked by stacks of peanut butter, green beans and soup, then loaded a few crates of oranges, potatoes and macaroni and cheese onto a rolling cart. `'C'mon man, let's go,'' he cheerfully told Mike Hennigan, a local pastor, as the two worked together.

Later, at a plantation that stakes a claim to the first Thanksgiving, Bush is reflecting on everyday heroism and the nation's giving spirit.

Never in his presidency has he devoted such a speech to Thanksgiving, let alone several hours of choreographed travel. The events allow Bush, in a very public way, to thank people who made an impression on him for acts of compassion and decency. Aides say it is part of the job he truly enjoys.

The soft theme of the day's events also aim to put Bush in a positive light at a time when the country is in a disapproving mood, soured by war and Washington politics.

In times of tragedy and celebration this year, Bush has been inspired by the character of the American people, said Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director. So Bush will pay tribute to them and encourage Americans to give back to their communities.

Berkeley Plantation, located along the James River in Charles City, Va., is known for both its landscaped beauty and its ties to history.

It says it is the site of America's first official Thanksgiving in 1619, when a group of British settlers knelt in prayer of thanks for a healthy arrival across the Atlantic. Their proclamation of thanks is carved into the ``Thanksgiving Shrine'' that Bush will visit.

Of course, Plymouth, Mass., is best known as the home of Thanksgiving, as the place where Pilgrims and Indians celebrated the autumn harvest with a feast in 1621.

The White House made clear it is not taking sides in that debate. But the Virginia property, a national historical landmark, gives Bush an appropriate _ and close-by _ setting for his day.

As for the presidential turkey pardon, that is still on Bush's agenda.

It happens Tuesday.