The latest effort by social conservatives to rally their troops around the so called “war on Christmas” teaches us many valuable lessons for the season. Notably, we can look forward to more ugliness in 2006 as the conservative sound machine ramps up the volume to try to drive its troops out for what (for now at least) look like pretty dismal ’06 by-election for the GOP.
In The Republican Noise Machine, former mouthpiece for the conservative movement and now critic of same David Brock described how a network of conservative pundits and media distribution networks coordinate with one another to promote the conservative agenda. The machine does more than push taling points developed by the Administration. It actively works to create an atmosphere conducive to the furtherance of the conservative agenda by creating stories and general atmospherics that appeal to supporters or attack chosen opponents.
So when I see the entire conservative noise machine engaged in the “War on Christmas,” I have to ask myself “what’s going on.” Certainly ACLU lawsuits against public creche displays have been a mainstay of the social conservatives for decades now. But this year is different. There has not been a triggerring event or lawsuit. Leading conservative pundits, notably the good folks at Fox News, have launched a proactive crusade to stop the “war” on Christmas. This includes boycotts of companies like Lands End which use “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” rather than Christmas (presumably under pressure from the Jesus Haters).
Not only has there been no triggering incident, The Washington Post recently reported that many of the examples of “taking the Christ out of Christmas” cited by conservative organizations and pundits aren’t true. Yes, some big companies like Target have made their pitch to an increasingly diverse market with “Holiday Sales” and “Holiday Ornaments.” (in Japan, for example, Christmas is a reasonably big holiday despite the relative paucity of Christians. Why? Because after WWII it got sold to folks as a modern western holiday. So I can watch all kinds of Iron Chef Christmas specials made in Japan for Japanese audiences who love Christmas and worship Budha.) But, like big companies allergic to controversy everywhere, they have quickly backed down and added “Merry Christmas” to the signage and instructed their greaters to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.”
So what’s up? Why the campaign? Why the endless drum beat from the same conservative noise machine that brought us “Gay Marraige Is A Threat To Your Children” and “Sadam Hossein is Working With Osama Bin Laden and Hillary Clinton to Bomb America?”
The mass media has tended to dismiss this as the harmless crankiness of religious zealots and fringe groups nostaligic for a Christmas that never was or eager to impose their religious standards on the nation. I, politics watcher and cynic that I am, see in this massive coordinated action something more. Fair warning, as I descend here into pure speculation that will no doubt get me branded a secular humanist conspiracy monger.
If you are a Conservative True Believer, 2005 should have been the Year of the Triumph. After all, according to the press, you delivered the presidency to George Bush by showing up in droves at the polls to support family values (with, perhaps, some handy assistance from Diebold). You control the majority of governorships and state legislators. You have a sufficient majority in the Senate to get your picks on the federal courts. You dominate the media, and have cowed the once mighty Liberal Media Conspiracy into self-censorship. And, should it rear its ugly head again, your legion of conservative blog “fact checkers” and “truth squads” can generate enough doubt about any story (when reneforced by the rest of the Sound Machine) to make non-true believers doubt its varacity.
Instead, 2005 has become a year of reversals. No Anti-Gay Marraige Amendment. No Anti-Flag Burning Amendment. A compromise on judges was reached by a handful of Republican centrists. The Iraq war goes on and on and on. Gas prices keep going up. Healthcare keeps getting more expensive. China and India still look all set to take over as economic powers. George Bush, the man Jesus sent to lead this country back to greatness, has stumbled time and again. Because no matter how much you want to blame the Democratic mayor of New Orleans and the Democratic Governor of Louisiana, you know that federal responses to Katrina and Rita were badly handled and you are not, in fact, safer now than you were on September 10, 2001.
And on the issue you care most about, repealling Roe v. Wade so you can stop the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent babies every day, nothing is happening. And, even after God has created new vacancies of the Supreme Court, the President nearly muffed it by nominating Harriet Miers and considering Alberto Gonzales , who are just NOT RELIABLE to do the Lord’s work here.
None of this will make a true believer conservative vote Democrat. However much the Bush team has failed to deliver, they are better than Satan’s Minions headed by Jezebel Hillary and Dean The Scream. But you may not have the enrgy to come out and vote for the GOP again in 2006.
And that would prove a catastrophe for the Republicans. As the Democrats learned after years of taking the “black vote” for granted, you need to get your folks to the polls to win. The Democrats proved in 2004 that they hate the current President and Republican Congress so much they will turn out in record numbers to vote for anyone that promises to deliver them from this mess. For the Republicans to maintain their current numbers, never mind make any new gains, they need to get their people to show up and vote.
Welcome to the “War on Christmas.” Since Reagan, Republican strategists have relied on convincing their supporters that they and their way of life are under attack and that only puting Republicans in charge will save it. The last 10 years of fine tuning this strategy has shown the light on how to do this. Christians who feel strongly about their faith can be moved to overlook real social problems — like their lack of health coverage or the inability to afford to run their Christmas light display 24/7 because electricity costs so much — if they believe that failure to show up and vote Republican translates into the triumph of the Secular Democrats and the anti-Jesus culture of Political Correctness.
Certainly we are a long way from November 2006. But cooking feelings of persecution is like cooking any stew. It requires constant tending and nurturing. If I’m right, we can expect new causes and “wars” in the months ahead. (January is already scheduled for Alito month, for example.) As the current “War on Christmas” campaign proves, the conservative sound machine no longer needs a triggering event, such as the wonderful way four Massachusetts judges handed them an issue in 2004 on gay marraige. Any issue can be transformed into a “war” on the religious conservatives.
Nor do the conservatives need to fear backlash from centrists, as happened with the proactive efforts to move their agenda forward in the Terry Schiavo case. The centrists dismiss it as the harmless natterings of the talking heads and pundits, tuned out as background noise. Meanwhile, the true believers, who might have stayed home, get stoked to go to the polls. The dismissive attitude of the “liberal” press only reenforces the conviction among the true believers that they are under assault by Secular Humanists and the Liberal Media they control.
I wonder what the next “assault” on Christian values will be. I don’t know, but I would look for timing in late February/early March.
Stay tuned . . . .