MythicAmerica explores the mythic dimension of American political culture, past, present, and future. The blogger, Ira Chernus, is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity.
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Dear Rush Limbaugh,
The night President Obama was re-elected you went to bed thinking that Mitt Romney “put forth a great vision of traditional America, and it was rejected.” So “we’ve lost the country.” You explained to your audience that the voters had chosen a “Santa Claus” government over hard work as the way to get their needs met.
Well, now that Santa is finishing up the last toys and getting the reindeer ready to fly, I want to bring you a season’s greeting full of good cheer. I want to cheer you up by telling you about the Christmas card I just got from the Obamas. It should ease your fears that your country, the one you call “traditional America,” is disappearing.
All the Obamas signed the card, even their little dog Bo (who added his pawprint). In fact Bo is the star of the card; he’s the only one who got his picture on it. There he is romping through the snow on the Obamas’ lawn. Hey, Rush, what could be more traditionally American than that?
And then read the message inside: “This season, may your home be filled with family, friends, and the joy of the holidays.” That’s it. No government coming into your home to spy on you -- or to give away stuff. In fact, no stuff at all. And no fat guy in a red suit to bring stuff. Just a home filled with family, friends, and Christmas joy.
(Yeah, I know it says “holidays.” But seriously, when did you ever see a picture of a little dog romping in the snow as a symbol of Hanukkah, or of anything associated with Muslim culture? We are obviously talking Christmas here.)
Why do you suppose I got this card? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine is that I’m on some list of people who volunteered for Obama during the campaign. It says it was “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” It was “paid for by the Democratic National Committee, www.democrats.org” (which means no government money was spent on the card, so don’t jump to any nasty conclusions).
But you know as well as I that the Democrats are trying to hold on to all of us who volunteered, so that when the time comes they can mobilize us in whatever political fight they need us for. I mean, you should see all the emails they still send me.
The thing is, I didn’t do very much for the campaign. There must be tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands, who did as much as I did. You’ve heard about the size of the Obama “ground game,” I bet. And they must all be getting the same card.
Now think about it, Rush. (This should really dry your tears.) The Democrats made a Christmas card to send to this huge list of people who support the Dems so solidly that they’ll give a few volunteer hours. These are all the people that you think are taking away your country, rejecting “traditional America.” The Dems surely hired some pretty high-priced PR professionals to figure out exactly what should go on that card -- what would make all of us who get it feel so good that we’ll want to volunteer even more.
And what did they come up with? Santa giving away stuff to a diverse rainbow coalition of greedy Americans? An inter-faith gathering, complete with atheists, celebrating a neutralized “seasonal observance”? A gay couple sitting down to Christmas dinner with their multi-racial children?
No. Not even a white working-class couple sitting down to Christmas dinner with their blond-haired, blue-eyed children. Just a little dog in the snow and a “home, family, friends, coded-Christmas” greeting.
But that’s not all, Rush. It gets better. The picture shows the dog in front of a grand, immense mansion, wearing a scarf no less. His head is held up straight and high, aligned perfectly with the stately pillars of the White House, as if he were marching in a military parade. And it’s all framed in a thin line of gold. Open it up and the message is embossed in gold, under the seal of the president in fine detail, embossed in the same gold.
Why, when I hold this in my hands I feel like I’ve been magically transported to Romneyland. Come to think of it, suppose Mitt had won and the Republicans sent a Christmas card to all the volunteers from his campaign. What would be different?
Well, they might leave out the dog, because that would remind people of the “tied to the top of the car” story. But surely they would have found some equally traditional Christmas-y picture full of snow, and done it in equally elegant style, with the same visual allusion to the martial dignity of America. Beyond that, only the names would be changed.
So apparently the Democrats’ best PR pros think that an elegant Romneyesque vision of “traditional America,” filled with gold, will warm the hearts of Dem loyalists. What do you make of that, Rush?
I take it as a coded message, not merely that Christmas is still the top-dog holiday around here, but that your idea (I call it your myth) of “traditional America” is very much alive and still packs an emotional wallop.
Yes, your myth took something of a hit this last election day. But it wasn’t such a serious blow. Last I looked, your guy got over 47 percent of the votes and my guy less than 51 percent. My guy did a couple of points better four years ago. But there was a congressional election in between where we got slaughtered by “traditional America.”
I bet the wizards who plot strategy and make Christmas cards for the Democratic National Committee remember that slaughter very vividly and aren’t nearly so sure as you are that you’ve lost your country. At least, they want us Dem activists to know that we had still better give lip service to “traditional America.”
I suspect it’s more than that, though. I suspect that at least the Christmas-y piece of the “traditional America” myth is still meaningful in some (perhaps subliminal) way to a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. They don’t think Christmas is about Santa handing out stuff -- and no Dems I know (which is a lot) think that government is about playing Santa, handing out stuff.
But they do have some sentimental attachment to the Norman Rockwell version of America and all the values it represents. They are even impressed (though they might hate to admit it) by the elegance of gold.
So cheer up, Rush. You’ve got the old American myth on your side of the political fence. And old myths die hard -- so hard, apparently, that even a lot of us on the opposite side of the fence are still hooked into your “traditional America.”
But here’s the best news: The deepest message of this card from the Obamas is that they love a lot of old American traditions, and they assume plenty of us Dem loyalists do too. We’re all patriots, on your side and ours. We all love the same country and want the best for it, even if we have different ways of getting there.
Merry Christmas, Rush!