The latest from the nonexistent "war on Christmas"

If you live in the United States, you know that Christmas is by far the biggest holiday of the year, and despite that the far right insists that there is a vast "war on Christmas" waged by pretty much everybody.

The latest imaginary skirmish in this imaginary war has to do with a Department of Agriculture program to coordinate farmers' efforts to promote certain agricultural products. Probably the best known example is the "Got Milk?" campaign created by dairy farmers, but there are others for cotton, beef, pork, chickens, and eggs. (And no, I don't know which of the last two campaigns came first.) The tiny program is paid for by the farmers themselves at no cost to general tax revenues and was created by a law sponsored by, among others, the current Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. The law passed with large majorities in both houses, with what opposition their was coming mostly from Democrats. (In the Senate, only one Republican, maverick John McCain, voted against it. More details in this article from the libertarian Cato Institute.)

Any group of farmers producing a particular product can ask to participate, and if there's broad enough support for it in their segment of the agricultural community, they can get their own campaign. One of the most recent requests came from the National Christmas Tree Association, a group of Christmas tree farmers, who have been losing ground to artificial trees. The ad campaign would cost the larger growing operations -- those selling over 500 trees a year -- a modest 15 cents per tree. The great majority of tree growers in most of the country were in favor, so the campaign was to be launched this year on a trial basis to see how the farmers liked the results. The Chicago Tribune has a good article on it.

Reasonable people might well disapprove of government programs like this, and so, apparently, can raving loons. Right-wing media who seem unfazed by the same approach to promote other agricultural products have ganged up on this proposal with the usual with high-speed spin, in one case even going so far as to claim that the 15-cent-per-tree fee somehow shows that Obama "hates Christians" (but apparently only a teeny tiny bit). To their credit, Fox & Friends managed to report the story more or less accurately -- a delightful surprise akin to watching your dog mow your lawn -- including the fact that it's a program to promote the sale of Christmas trees and favored by a strong majority of growers. But even so, their on-screen graphic characterized it as "GRINCHED BY THE GOVERNMENT." Media Matters has more examples, and the National Christmas Tree Association itself released this press release today explaining the widespread support among growers and noting it's actually unlikely the 15-cent fee will have any effect on tree prices.

The level of political discussion might not be getting worse, but it isn't getting any better.

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