No room at the White House

grinchReporters and editors have been deluging viewers and readers with Christmas culture war stories. And who can blame them? Stories abound throughout the country of public school principals secularizing lyrics to Christmas carols, retail outlets forbidding employees from wishing Christmas shoppers a Merry Christmas, and members of Congress having to fight over what to call Christmas trees. And then on the other side you have folks who see nothing wrong with cancelling church on Christmas Sunday vilifying those on the other side. Washington Post religion writer Alan Cooperman capitalizes on the Christmas Wars meme with his indepth story on presidential greeting cards:

What's missing from the White House Christmas card? Christmas.

This month, as in every December since he took office, President Bush sent out cards with a generic end-of-the-year message, wishing 1.4 million of his close friends and supporters a happy "holiday season."

Cooperman quotes, as he says, the "generals" on the pro-Christmas side reacting to the banal greeting card.

"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."

What's interesting about Cooperman's angle on the imbroglio the Bush White House finds itself in -- this year at least -- is that the story has not been pushed by the groups cited in the article but, rather, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Here's how their Nov. 30 press release begins:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and his Religious Right cohorts have been complaining for weeks now about government agencies and store clerks saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" but it looks like Falwell forgot to tell President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and the Republican National Committee about the preferred religiously correct greeting.

The White House's 2005 holiday card is just out, and it doesn't mention the word "Christmas" once.

A Boston Globe reporter mentioned the watered down White House greeting in a Dec. 4 piece, giving proper credit to Americans United. I'm not sure why Cooperman doesn't but either way, he does a great job of providing historical context for Presidential greeting cards:

Like many modern touches, the generic New Year's card was introduced to the White House by John and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1962, they had Hallmark print 2,000 cards, of which 1,800 cards said "The President and Mrs. Kennedy Wish You a Blessed Christmas" and 200 said "With Best Wishes for a Happy New Year."

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson continued that tradition for a couple of years, but it required keeping track of Christian and non-Christian recipients. Beginning in 1966, they wished everyone a "Joyous Christmas," and no president has attempted the two-card trick since.

Cooperman writes that the White House and retailers use the same explanation for why they don't mention Christmas (a desire not to offend non-Christians). And that is undoubtedly true. In this article, the context Cooperman provides is historical perspective on Presidential greeting cards. Perhaps he or another reporter should now dig deeper into why the White House, whose massive card distribution is funded and managed by the Republican National Committee as part of its fundraising strategy, shares its motivations with retailers, who are driven by profit.

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