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Bush, Obama hail our history

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

They differ markedly on policies, but President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama both struck the same note in their Christmas weekend radio addresses -- right down to using the same image of Gen. George Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night 1776.

Mr. Bush called Washington's raid on Hessian troops in Trenton, N.J., a "miracle" of the nation's birth.

"Two hundred and thirty-two years have passed since George Washington crossed the Delaware. But on this Christmas, his legacy lives on in the men and women of the United States military," Mr. Bush said.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama told Americans to remember troops stationed overseas, with the president-elect remarking on "servicemen and women [who] can only wonder at the look on their child's face as they open a gift back home."

With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. response in Afghanistan, troops have been at war for each of Mr. Bush's eight Christmases in office. It's striking that both men chose the 1776 image -- Mr. Bush, despite making military families the focus of six of the eight Christmas week radio addresses he's delivered, has never used it before.

Emanuel Leutze, a German-born artist, painted the iconic vision of the crossing in his "Washington Crossing the Delaware," a copy of which hangs in the White House. New Jersey chose the image to grace its entry in the 50 State Quarters Program.

Here's how Mr. Obama described the crossing:

"Two hundred thirty-two years ago, when America was newly born as a nation, George Washington and his Army faced impossible odds as they struggled to free themselves from the grip of an empire.

"It was Christmas Day -- December 25th, 1776 -- that they fought through ice and cold to make an improbable crossing of the Delaware River. They caught the enemy off guard, won victories in Trenton and Princeton, and gave new momentum to the beleaguered Army and new hope to the cause of Independence."

Mr. Bush took a more dramatic view, arguing the crossing was make or break for the young nation, celebrating its first Christmas.

"After a series of crippling defeats by the British, George Washington's army was exhausted and disheartened. With their terms of service expiring in just a few weeks, many soldiers were planning on leaving the army. And it seemed that without a miracle, America's fight for freedom would be doomed.

"That miracle took place on Christmas night, 1776. George Washington planned a surprise attack on the enemy forces camped across the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey. Under the cover of darkness, he led a few thousand soldiers across the icy waters in the midst of a driving snowstorm. Most generals would not have taken such a risk. But the commitment of Washington and his men was absolute. They headed into battle with a bold password -- 'Victory or death.'

"In a matter of hours, victory was theirs. Morale immediately improved. And the American people began to believe that our Nation possessed the perseverance and courage to protect our liberty. The turnaround that began that night would end with the United States' triumph in the American Revolution -- and the permanent establishment of a free nation."

The addresses will be aired Saturday, but Mr. Bush released his remarks Tuesday, and Mr. Obama released his Wednesday.

Overall, Mr. Obama struck a more political note than Mr. Bush, calling on Americans to get on board with his campaign's message of change.

"Now, more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to the notion that we share a common destiny as Americans -- that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. Now, we must all do our part to serve one another; to seek new ideas and new innovation; and to start a new chapter for our great country."

Mr. Obama is in Hawaii with his family, while Mr. Bush is spending Christmas at Camp David for the 12th time -- including four times when his father was president.

Mr. Bush called nine service members Wednesday to wish them Merry Christmas.

The White House released the menus for Mr. Bush's Christmas Eve dinner celebration -- enchiladas and tamales -- as well as Christmas Day lunch, which features roast turkey, sides, and both pumpkin and pecan pies.

Mr. Bush on Wednesday also issued a greeting for Kwanzaa, the week-long celebration created in 1966 by a black activist who wanted black Americans to have an alternative to Christmas. The celebration begins Dec. 26 and runs for seven days.

"For more than 40 years, millions of people have come together to reaffirm Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. These principles emphasize unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith," Mr. Bush said in his message.

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