Political Animal


November 09, 2011 2:35 PM When nonsense gets in the way

By Steve Benen

It seemed like a simple little idea. The Christmas tree industry, which has been struggling in recent years, wanted to fund a promotional program, encouraging consumers to buy real, rather than artificial, trees over the holiday season. The idea was for Christmas trees to follow in the footsteps of milk, beef, and cotton, all of which benefited from successful promotional campaigns.

To pay for the effort, the industry launched the Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order, asking the Agriculture Department to approve a 15-cent fee, per tree, on domestic producers and importers. It was requested by the industry, to benefit the industry, and to be paid for by the industry.

The Agriculture Department solicited public feedback, and most supported the proposal. This week, officials gave the industry the green light to proceed.

And that’s when Republican hacks decided to intervene.

Some loons decided the Obama administration wants to impose a new “tax” on Christmas trees because the president “hates Christians.” National Christmas Tree Association spokesman Rick Dungey tried to explain this “has absolutely nothing to do with Obama,” and “it’s not a tax,” but it was too late — the right-wing message machine had already kicked into gear.

The well-trafficked Drudge Report is leading with the story, linking to a blog by David Addington, a former top aide to then-Vice President David Addington Dick Cheney, at the conservative Heritage Foundation assailing the president thus: “The economy is barely growing and nine percent of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do? And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.”

Addington is many things, but he’s not an idiot. The former Cheney aide surely knows what he published is pure garbage, but Addington did it anyway — the right has a political war to win and when truth gets in the way, it needs soldiers willing to push honesty aside.

And because the White House doesn’t want to spend the next two months arguing about a “Christmas Tree tax” that doesn’t exist, the administration decided to delay implementation of the industry fee, which, again, was requested by the industry for the industry.

This is why we can’t have nice things — our political discourse is dominated by fools and charlatans.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • matt w on November 09, 2011 2:39 PM:

    What makes the administration think that delaying implementation is going to mean we won't spend the next two months talking about a Christmas tree tax that doesn't exist? They're going to lie anyway, might as well follow the policy you want to.

  • drinkof on November 09, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Every one of those folks is a charlatan. OTOH, if this Christmas tree industry wants to advertise, why can't they do it through a trade association? Seriously ... Addington is a d.b., the whole anti-Christian thing is absurd, and the anti-tax crowd is full of it, but ... why does the AG Dept have to be involved?

  • c u n d gulag on November 09, 2011 2:49 PM:

    I hope Santa brings Addington a lump of coal for Christmas.

    A burning lump of coal - and shoves it up Addington's ass!

    This is another example of ROO - Republican Outrage Overdose.

    They keep slinging the bullshit, hoping you'll throw your hands up in the air from sheer frustration, and decide not to vote for anyone.

    THAT'S their favorite form of voter suppression!!!

    And they've been using it successfully for over 30 years.

  • flubber on November 09, 2011 2:50 PM:

    15 cents per tree?!

    You'd think even conservative hacks would be embarrassed to push this story.

  • MichaelF on November 09, 2011 2:54 PM:

    This is about as clear an example as you can get when it comes to the mass media not doing its job. Yeah, Drudge and the rest of the noise machine will always be a-holes, but the supposedly "serious" press could and should slam this as typical Rethug fraud. And if they'll lie about something like this, what WON'T they lie about?

  • Gummo on November 09, 2011 2:58 PM:

    So the wingers will "save" Christmas by destroying the Christmas tree industry?

    Sounds about right. And typical.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on November 09, 2011 2:59 PM:

    Without being one of those always-down-on-Obama people, I really dislike that they decided to delay implementation. It's just another instance of rewarding stupid behavior and legitimizing it. If I were the President, I'd love to be "tasked" with addressing this over and over: "Mr. President, why are you trying to tax Christmas?" "Well, Jim, you know as well as I that this was not a tax, it was requested by the sellers of Christmas trees. And I'm disappointed that the Republicans in Congress would rather lie about a non-issue than address the ongoing jobs crisis in the United States. I'm even more disappointed that people who should know better continue to distract the American people by airing this ridiculous charge."

    Repeat ad infinitum.

    The rabid right wing knows that they just have to repeat a lie one more time than truth-sayers knock it down, and they win.

  • Texas Aggie on November 09, 2011 3:00 PM:

    They just lost the Christmas tree vote.

  • T2 on November 09, 2011 3:05 PM:

    "fools and charlatans." yep, and 8 of them will be debating on TV tonite. Does anyone want to bet that Michele Bachmann nails Cain on the harassment/assault thingy?

  • Hey, Steve on November 09, 2011 3:09 PM:

    Best. Last. Paragraph. Ever.

  • Stevo on November 09, 2011 3:11 PM:


    A fee imposed by the Department of Agriculture would be mandatory. Frankly the real scandal here is private trade associations using regulatory agencies to collect dues from unwilling participants. But that's not on the Obama administration.

    And, by the way Steve, since when does a promotional campaign for the Christmas tree industry fall into the realm of "nice things we can't have?" That strikes me more as "wasteful shit we don't need."

  • Peej01 on November 09, 2011 3:14 PM:

    Someone should tell these nuts that this is not an uncommon thing for an association related to agriculture to do. I used to be an IT contractor at the US Customs Service and we had to adjust our programming to be able to collect the fees for this sort of thing all the time.

  • Mimikatz on November 09, 2011 3:24 PM:

    It is also possible that some of the participants in this charade are paid by the artificial tree people. One real drawback of the GOP's elevation of wealth is at it has attracted so many grifters to the GOP. Half the operatives are just making money.

  • SYSPROG on November 09, 2011 3:27 PM:

    SUCH BS. This is a program that has worked for other industries. It is FIFTEEN FLIPPIN' CENTS. There is not ONE SINGLE ISSUE that somebody won't make something of. THAT is why we can't have nice things...it's the LIARS.

  • GAth on November 09, 2011 3:27 PM:

    Why should I have to pay an extra 15 cents for my Christmas tree to pay for commercials telling me to buy a Christmas tree? I just did that! You want to help the Christmas tree industry? Collect the fee from people who don't buy Christmas trees!

  • Tuttle on November 09, 2011 3:27 PM:

    ... a blog by David Addington, a former top aide to then-Vice President David Addington, ...


  • zeitgeist on November 09, 2011 3:29 PM:

    Mimikatz FTW.

    Who would create a fraudulent political firestorm to try and block an industry advertising campaign for real Christmas trees?

    "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. . . Plastics."

  • Josef K on November 09, 2011 4:15 PM:

    If President Obama said "breathing is a good thing", the idiots on the right would doubtlessly start holding their collective breaths while claiming oxygen to actually be a poisonous substance the New World Order will use to kill us (or something like that).

    Dear gods but I'm terrified for the future, especially with the Republicans in the thrall of such insanity.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on November 09, 2011 4:37 PM:

    Well you erudite folks don't see the real conspiracy here . Artificial trees are made with plastic . Plastic is made with petroleum and petroleum leads right to the....the Koch brothers and A-Rab Terrists . Excuse me while I go retrieve my tinfoil hat.

  • jjm on November 09, 2011 4:37 PM:

    Is this THE Addington of the imitation Kaiser Wilhelm moustache? The one that was part of the crew Wilkinson, in Powell's office, routinely called, "the Nazis"?

  • jheartney on November 09, 2011 4:42 PM:

    As a longtime user of second-hand xmas artificial trees (haven't bought one in my entire adult life), I'd have to say I'm perfectly happy not to have the whole growing/cutting/transport/disposal of live trees promoted.

    Addington is a lying douche, of course. That he managed to accomplish something positive here was entirely accidental.

  • Lee on November 09, 2011 4:44 PM:

    And how far will 15 cents per tree go (it works out to about $5 million total) towards setting up and operating a new petty bureaucracy? From what I've seen of government operations, it the program will yield a net loss.

  • slf on November 09, 2011 5:17 PM:

    RE: "....The well-trafficked Drudge Report is leading with the story, linking to a blog by David Addington, a former top aide to then-Vice President David Addington,..."

    Typo Alert: Addington was former top aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney. I offer this clarification, which obviously everybody here automatically corrected and didn't care about, for the record because a person who devotes himself to such a loathsome, destructive, anti-Bill of Rights outlaw should have that fact, and his shame, brought forward at every opportunity.

  • David R. Goodman on November 09, 2011 5:22 PM:

    Please don't even quote Addington to call his point into questions. Once you've read Jane Mayer's the Dark Side, you realize he is the most vile human on the planet.

  • cairns on November 09, 2011 5:35 PM:

    Your article is false, misleading and insipid.

    Before you start disparaging Republicans and playing partisan hack you might want to start with the facts.

    Fact: Only 398 growers responded favorably to the proposal- out of over 20,000 Christmas tree growers in North America.

    So a small number of tree growers lobbied to impose an "advertising" tax on a great many more and the Obama Administration and the USDA willing played along- no doubt helped by a few donations to the right people and a willingness to impose taxes that John Kennedy would have found appalling. Then the public found about it and Obama thought this might not look too good- and you want to blame this on Republicans??? It's all over the web- and Republicans didn't put it there.

    Ever wonder how the makers of artificial trees would feel about the government favoring their competitors? Perhaps you think the artificial tree owners are all Republicans who cruelly exposed this hare brained overreach by our government? Or do you think a lot of people- no matter what their politics are- think this is a stupid idea and Obama realized that?

    You might try using your mind instead of your partisan other parts next time you write something. Just a suggestion.

  • stratplayer on November 09, 2011 5:45 PM:

    Gingrichian reflexive oppositionalism now has a stranglehold on the Republican Party. They are institutionally incapable of supporting anything proposed by a Democrat, even if said Democrat is proposing an erstwhile Republican idea; e.g., the individual health insurance mandate.

  • g on November 09, 2011 5:47 PM:

    The Obama administration ends up looking weak again - unwilling to fight for a program. I heard this described on Fox News Radio top of the hour report and it came across as Obama being stupid and anti-business because he was delaying doing something that the business community had asked to be done.

  • meander on November 09, 2011 6:02 PM:

    This 'tax' on trees looks a lot like the 'tax' on pork, potatoes, beef and other agricultural products that Congress has mandated in the past. Those programs -- commonly called "check-off fees" -- require all producers to pay a fee to a marketing association. You've seen their work: "Beef, it's what's for dinner", "Pork, the other white meat", and much more.

    By the Christmas tree tax logic, the check-off fee on pork is a "bacon tax", the check-off fee on beef is a "hamburger tax" and so on. But those programs were around before Obama got into office, so the right-wing can leave them alone.

    Check-off programs in the ag industry are quite controversial, especially among producers of organic and heritage animals, who are forced to pay a fee that markets feedlot products. For more on ag check-offs, Marion Nestle's "Food Politics" is a good resource.

  • Rose on November 09, 2011 6:07 PM:

    Local channel CBS 2 in New York just followed the right wing talking points, I actually thought they would, you know report the facts! How stupid of me!

  • Gregory on November 09, 2011 6:24 PM:

    This is about as clear an example as you can get when it comes to the mass media not doing its job.

    Just wait until the so-called "liberal media" picks the story up from Drudge.

    I don't know if Matt Drudge still rules their world, but he's certainly one of the tools conservatives use to insert their dishonest talking points into the lazy corporate media.

  • Texas Aggie on November 09, 2011 6:57 PM:

    "setting up and operating a new petty bureaucracy? "

    People don't seem to have even the slightest idea of how US agriculture works. These checkoff fees, as meander mentions, are common and found in just about every commodity on the market. The "bureaucracy" involved is the industry itself, not the government. All the US government does is collect the money. Remember the "Got Milk" ads that were common a few years back? They did a lot towards increasing milk consumption and they were paid for by a check off system on the dairy farmers. In other words, they were a good investment because of their return.

    As for those who bewail that all producers are obligated to pay for the advertising campaign, don't you think that if you benefit, you should also pay for the effort? Otherwise you're a parasite living off the sacrifices of other people. Sort of like those people who like getting time and a half for overtime, but don't want to pay dues to the union that forced that agreement on management.

  • Crissa on November 09, 2011 9:43 PM:

    Nearly all the tree farms locally have gone under.

    It's not a farming that I'd like to encourage - their not particularly good use of woodlands - but this is really, really weird.

    A tax on christians? What about us atheists who celebrate Yule?

  • Anonymous on November 09, 2011 10:13 PM:

    OTOH, if this Christmas tree industry wants to advertise, why can't they do it through a trade association?

    Because many trees are imported from Canada, for one. Those companies would get the benefit without needing to join the trade group and international la would make their participation complex.

    This is common when you have many small actors in a small group - the free rider problem.

    So yeah, noncompulsive trade groups aren't very influential unless they contain a large member.

  • Rich on November 10, 2011 1:38 AM:

    Obama capitulates yet again, which simply encourages more of these invented controversies. Is there any political sense in the White House whatsoever?

  • The Oracle on November 10, 2011 2:35 AM:

    How low can radical Republicans really get? Now they're holding Christmas trees HOSTAGE!!!!

    It's past time to get tar and feathers for these type of Republicans, and after being tarred and feathered I know the perfect place for them...on top of a Christmas tree with the boughs stuck up........well, you get the picture. Of course, these tarred and feathered Republicans would make really ugly, ugly "angels," but maybe they'd get the, ahem, "point."

  • TJS104 on November 10, 2011 8:51 AM:

    Wow!!! "This is why we can�t have nice things � our political discourse is dominated by fools and charlatans."
    I guess that says it all about Mr. Benen. What are you talking about except to call names (i.e. Loons, Charlatans & fools). Nice things???

  • Bartleby on November 10, 2011 11:24 AM:

    Ever wonder how the makers of artificial trees would feel about the government favoring their competitors?

    Artificial trees come from China---so I don't care. I'd rather buy American!!

  • God on November 10, 2011 12:21 PM:

    Why are the Republicans defending the Christmas Tree, which is a Pagan symbol and tradition? And why aren't the Democrats calling out the Republicans as Pagan Sympathizers?

  • tank on November 10, 2011 4:03 PM:

    The correlation of the biological time and the social time frequencies and their interrelation in the global historical process was named "the Law of Time".


  • Kevin Schmidt on November 10, 2011 7:43 PM:

    I think people who believe there is an actually difference between the Democrats and Republicans are the fools.

    There is another choice besides voting for the lesser of two evil political parties. That choice is #OCCUPY!

  • OH on November 11, 2011 8:16 PM:

    When Bush was in, every single year the WhiteHouse.gov website had a page which said "Happy Holidays" - rather than Merry Christmas.