Forty or so years ago, a U.S. Senator from Vermont by the name of George Aiken wisely advised both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon that the United States should simply declare victory in Vietnam and bring its troops home. Unfortunately, neither listened to him. His advice, sadly, is still relevant. When President George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 and declared "Mission Accomplished," he only got it half right; he overlooked the bit about bringing the troops home.
And then there's Bill O'Reilly, the bombastic host of Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," and a cultural warrior who finally seems to have taken Aiken's advice to heart. In the December 13 episode of his show, O'Reilly announced that Fox News had won the so-called "war on Christmas." Well, that is a relief. The only question is whether O'Reilly will follow all of Aiken's advice and call home the Fox troops scouring the countryside for the last signs of the anti-Christmas resistance.
"The far left secular progressive community is furious, furious, I tell you about losing the war on Christmas…. [A]ll over the country, the sights and signs of Christmas are on display. Few department stores are telling employees not to say a 'Merry Christmas.' And the Taliban-like oppression of the holiday has largely ceased, but the SPs are not happy about that."
For those of you who lost your scorecard, "SP" stands for "secular progressives," O'Reilly's shorthand for all the left-wing, hippy, dope-smoking, Prius-driving, bleeding-hearts who would rather say "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" than the Old Testament's preferred "Merry Christmas."
O'Reilly's self-promotion to commander-in-chief in the "war on Christmas" occurred in December 2004, when he and fellow Fox host Sean Hannity began featuring stories from around the country that allegedly demonstrated a growing cultural hostility to Christmas. O'Reilly soon launched a regular feature on his show called "Christmas Under Siege" and has resurrected the theme each year as soon as the last turkey leftovers disappear.
Much like the war in Iraq, it turns out that O'Reilly's campaign to defend Christmas was based on faulty intelligence. As Kingdom Coming author Michelle Goldberg ably documented in a Salon article two Christmases ago, O'Reilly deftly inflated a few minor examples of over-zealous inclusiveness into a vast and overblown secularist conspiracy. O'Reilly is apparently unwilling to accept the possibility that market forces—and not the dark influence of the left— might motivate retail chains like Federated Department Stores and even Wal-Mart to use the generally more welcoming "Happy Holidays" in their seasonal advertising. The grand irony in all of this, of course, is the fact that the Christian Right and its media mouthpieces like O'Reilly and Ann Coulter have been so polarizing over the last seven years that "Merry Christmas" increasingly sounds more like a command than a benediction.
The event that apparently triggered O'Reilly's declaration of victory was the House of Representative's passage on December 11 of a resolution in support of Christmas and Christianity. The resolution, H.R. 847, was sponsored by Iowa Republican Steve King and passed by an overwhelming margin of 372-9. All nine of the representatives who voted against the resolution were Democrats; eleven other courageous representatives, including one Republican, voted "present."
There's not much question where Rep. King gets his news; he is clearly a foot-soldier for O'Reilly in the "War on Christmas." In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rep. King reiterated O'Reilly's main talking points: "I've watched Christ be eradicated by ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) lawsuits and people be afraid of confrontations. They wish (people) 'happy holidays' but not 'Merry Christmas' because they might be offended."
Although much of the media has covered the resolution as recognizing the importance of Christmas, that's not exactly what it does. Christmas is mentioned in a couple of the resolution's "Whereas" clauses, but what the House actually resolved is much more about cloaking the United States in the shroud of Christianity. For instance, the resolution states that the House of Representatives "recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world," "acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization," and "expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world."
King told the Post-Intelligencer that he proposed the resolution because he perceives an anti-Christian bias sweeping the country. "I would not have thought that five or 10 years ago that we'd need to make a statement" like H.R. 847. The news of an anti-Christian bias in this country comes as something of a surprise to the 25% of Americans who are not Christian, particularly at this time of year. Throughout December, it is impossible to watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper without being reminded that one of Christianity's leading holidays is fast approaching. If Christmas were merely a day-long religious celebration of the birth of Christ, that would be one thing, but decades of increasingly hyperbolic marketing have turned it into a 5-6 week long cultural and retail festival that can't help but make non-Christians (and even the Christian poor) feel Left Behind.
It is farcical for people like Rep. King to suggest that Congress needs to help defend Christianity. While some Christian Right leaders and media figures like O'Reilly have been stunningly successful at creating the impression that the lions are just around the corner, the reality is far different. The truth is that resolutions like H.R. 847 are more divisive and polarizing than affirming. It is precisely the type of thing that much wiser men, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, hoped that this country would avoid.
Frederick Lane is an expert witness, lecturer, and author who has appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He writes daily for Newsfactor.com on technology, law, and privacy, and he has just finished his fourth book, The Court and the Cross: The Religious Right's Crusade to Reshape the Supreme Court (Beacon Press May 2008). For additional information, please visit http://www.FrederickLane.com.