Eight years ago Campaign 2008 was just cranking up for first blood in Iowa and New Hampshire, and out of nowhere one candidate suddenly invented a fully formed seasonal tradition:
This guy Huckabee is some kind of genius. A week ago, you had to be the Pope or the Queen to do your own big televised Christmas message. But now, since Huck climbed into his red sweater and hired George Lucas to do the notorious "floating cross" effect, every single-digit nickel 'n' dime presidential candidate is donning his gay apparel and trolling the ancient Yuletide carol. I haven't seen so much festive knitwear since "The Andy Williams Christmas Show" 1973.
In seasonal market-share terms, the former Arkansas governor remains the Huckabing Crosby, the pioneer in whose footsteps all others scamper to play Perry Como and Harry Belafonte. Barack Obama's message is warm and fuzzy and carefully poised, with one of his kids saying "Merry Christmas" and the other "Happy Holidays." If he had a third, she'd presumably be wishing you a hearty Kwanzaa or hailing Bob Kerrey with a cheery "Allahu Akbar!"
Ron Paul is the only candidate with the courage to be filmed in front of an artificial tree. Hmm.
In Sen. Clinton's Christmas message, Hillary is bundling up presents for all of us. They're beautifully wrapped, but oddly, instead of putting the name of the intended recipient on the gift tag, she's written out what's in them: "Universal Health Care," "Alternative Energy," "Middle-Class Tax Cuts." Strange. "Where did I put 'Universal Pre-K'?" she says. "Ah, there it is." If you thought Christmas at the mall was too materialistic, this is bonanza time. Message: It Takes A Santa's Village Staffed By Unionized Government Elves To Raise A Child, and I'm Santa and you're gonna need a much bigger chimney for all the federal entitlements I'll be tossing down there. Your stocking's gonna be packed tighter than Monica in fishnets.
And yet it's a strangely cheerless message. Less Santa than Frosty the Snowqueen.
John McCain's message is about the Christmas he spent being tortured. By having Hillary's Christmas message played to him over and over? No, silly. This was back in Vietnam.
John Edwards' message is the usual Dickensian affair about the two Americas. I forget the details, but the upshot is that one America is a land of spindly emaciated Tiny Tims with barely three farthings to rub together for their next cup of gruel, while the other's a marshmallow world where Dick Cheney, high on wassail, shoots a brace of turducken out of season, and then chows down as the Radio City Rockettes pop up out of his figgy pudding and come kicking across the dining table, singing "Santa Baby." You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Edwards' poignant vignette of a divided America, tastefully lit with the warm glow of Christmas candles, unless it's the glare from his styling mousse.
Rudy Giuliani wears a sleeveless red sweater with a tie underneath, which gives it the look of a seasonal bulletproof vest. But he engages in some charmingly leaden banter with Santa. "Under my administration, in New York incidents of bearded men coming down the chimney and taking your milk and cookies fell 72 percent."
"Ho ho ho!"
"Spread 'em, punk!"
"Don't tase me, bro! Heeeaaauggghhhaaaiii!"
(I quote from memory.)
There's something magnificent about the way a tradition can be born fully-formed, so that in the space of a week it seems entirely normal to see grown senators hanging McCandy McCanes on the tree and inviting a couple of Iowans over to help stir the ethanol into the eggnog. By 2012, seasoned seasonal political observers will be sighing wearily that it's still early September but the candidates' Christmas greetings are already airing in Iowa and New Hampshire. By 2016, John McCain will have passed McCain-Feingold holiday-greeting finance reform.
Indeed, it may not even take that long. The instant fuss over Huck's subliminal floating cross suggests a lively market for Christmas attack ads:
"John McCain promises to get tough with Iran. Do we really need another chorus of 'C'mon, it's lovely weather for a slay ride together with you'? I'm Dennis Kucinich, the little drummer boy."
"Hillary says she made a list, but did she check it twice? Ask Norman Hsu. I'm Barack Obama and I trust you to figure out who's naughty or nice."
"Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Barack? Or a lingering side-effect from your former cocaine habit? I'm Bob Kerrey for Hillary '08 saying, when we drop subtle hints about your criminal record, we're not talking about "The Kathie Lee Christmas Album." If you can't stand the heat, back off before it's your chestnuts getting roasted on an open fire."
"Mitt Romney sang 'I Saw Daddy March With Santa Claus'. Now he says it's just a figure of speech. I'm Mike Huckabee and I'm no expert in Mormon theology but aren't they the descendants of King Herod who believe in slaying the first-born?"
"I'm Mitt Romney, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I approve this message to Rudy Giuliani:
Focus groups, you're a blip in
In the polls, you're a-slippin'
A pitiful sight
You're flailing tonight
Walking in a wintry numbers land.
Yet, even in the first flush of this instant holiday tradition, we can identify certain trends.
Because Mike Huckabee mentioned "the birth of Christ," he liberated the equivocal tentative finger-in-the-windy candidates and enabled them to utter the dread words "Merry Christmas." (Save, that is, for Sen. Clinton, whose message ends with "Happy Holidays.") Thus, in a small way, the governor shifted the goalposts. I can't say I care for the Huckster policy-wise, but his instincts are very shrewd. There's a big demographic out there (and certainly not confined to evangelical Protestants, or even believing Christians) that's sick of the insipid generalities of the liberal establishment's offensively inoffensive pseudo-religion. By declining to defer to it and suffering no ill effects, Huck demonstrated how weedy and insubstantial it is. A lot of cultural warriors will be heartened by that.
And Huckabee's insouciance â€“ he ad-libbed his Christmas greeting in two takes â€“ helps explain why so many of the better-funded, supposed front-runners this campaign season are lying in the snow bank with a stunned look while the soundtrack plays "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer".
On which happy note, Happy Hol ... er, Merry Christmas!
from The New York Sun, December 24th 2007