Tuesday, November 29, 2005

O Holiday Tree, We’ll Topple Thee ...

[[H Y P E]] * It’s continually astounding to see how quickly members of the U.S. Republican Party will roll over and beg for the support of loudmouthed religious right-wingers. The latest demonstration of that willingness was the announcement this week by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) that “the lighted, decorated tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol--known in recent years as the ‘Holiday Tree’--should be renamed the ‘Capitol Christmas Tree,’ as it was called until the late 1990s.” Nobody seems to know who changed the tree’s designation in the first place, but the alteration was presumably made out of concern that, in a historically nonsectarian nation such as the United States, the term “Christmas tree” might be offensive to non-Christians.

However, the GOP--which in recent years has become “the political arm of conservative Christians,” to quote former Republican U.S. Senator (and Episcopal minister) John Danforth--won’t abide political correctness on a matter of ostensible religious significance. FOX News blowhard Bill O’Reilly has made a ridiculous but ratings-grabbing cause out of “saving” the United States from the pernicious secularization of Christmas, using dubious anecdotes and plenty of hot air to convince his gullible viewers that there’s some kind of liberal conspiracy to expunge Jesus Christ from holiday merrymaking. (“[N]obody sticks up for Christmas except me,” O’Reilly whined in 2004.) And just last week, controversial televangelist Jerry Falwell attacked Boston, Massachusetts, for a reference on its official Web site to the city’s “holiday tree.” Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Falwell-associated Liberty Counsel, is quoted in the conservative Washington Times as saying that “The Boston Christmas tree situation is symbolic of what’s happening ... around the country. To rename a Christmas tree as a holiday tree is as offensive as renaming a Jewish menorah a candlestick.” Further contributing to this hullabaloo is Donnie Hatt, the Nova Scotia, Canada, grower who provided Beantown with its 48-foot-tall white spruce. CBC-TV news quotes Hiatt as saying he’d rather see his tree “run through the wood chipper in his backyard” than have it designated as a “holiday tree.” Regarding this debate, Hiatt adds: “Well, I think it’s a bunch of bullcrap. The States is never happy with the way things are. They always gotta change something.”

Falwell has since sought to turn his unnecessary “save Christmas” campaign into a cause célèbre by dashing e-mail notes off to his 500,000 followers, asking that they join his fight against “grinches”--especially Democratic politicians--“who are trying to steal Christmas.”

But somebody obviously forget to feed first lady Laura Bush the talking points on this subject. During a ceremony yesterday to kick off the official 2005 White House Christmas season and welcome the introduction of an 18.5-foot Christmas tree into the Blue Room, she told the press: “Well, all things bright and beautiful is the theme this year. I think it will be really bright and beautiful with this fabulous tree. But thank you all very much. Happy holidays.” I’m waiting to hear what O’Reilly does with that anti-Christian/anti-Christmas assault.

IS BUSH INSULTING “CHRISTIAN AMERICA,” TOO? “[A] a member of the White House press corps reminded Scott McClellan on Friday that the invitation to the annual Christmas party for the media now reads, ‘A Holiday Reception.’ In a defense that will clearly irritate [Bill] O’Reilly, McClellan said: ‘This is a time to welcome people of all faiths, and all those who are celebrating the holiday season.’” Read on.

READ MORE:How the Secular Humanist Grinch Didn’t Steal Christmas,” by Michelle Goldberg (Salon); “FOX Dayside Viewers Aren’t Buying ‘War on Christmas’” (News Hounds); “O’Reilly: American Businesses Should Kneel and Thank Jesus” (News Hounds); “Can the Jews Save Christmas?” by Daniel Gross (Slate).

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