Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

Summary: Somehow, the Obama administration managed to turn Christmas trees into a topic that will provide the GOP with endless mirth and mocking hilarity.

SHARE:

I am always deeply amused by towering marketing stupidity. Getting a good, clear message out to the public is hard work and requires constant diligence. The problem is, all that hard work can often be undone by a moment of absolute thoughtlessness on the part of anyone up or down the chain of command.

CBS News: "Christmas tree tax" sidelined after uproar

Take, for example, Christmas trees.

These are benign beasts. I'm not a big fan of holidays, but even I can appreciate a pretty Christmas tree. It's hard to screw up the message of holiday cheer when it comes to Christmas trees.

It's even harder to turn Christmas trees, the mere mention of Christmas trees, into a weapon of self-destruction.

And yet, somehow, the Obama administration has managed to do just that. Somehow, despite all the big problems we have here in America, from over-reaching bankers to completely borked health care systems, to ongoing joblessness -- somehow, the Obama administration managed to turn Christmas trees into a topic that will provide the GOP with endless mirth and mocking hilarity.

And this, in an election year.

Here's what's going on. Many industry interest groups have managed to get the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) to provide promotional programs for their products. Remember the whole "Got Milk?" campaign? That was the result of a USDA program designed to help boost milk sales. Yeah, your tax dollars at work.

In any case, apparently there's an industry group of Christmas tree growers (as distinguished from those companies that construct fake trees). Apparently, the growers have been lobbying the USDA to put together an awareness program to help sell the American public on the general wonderfulness of non-artificial trees.

This week, the USDA decided to go along with this request, instituting a plan that would fund Christmas tree awareness. See how this is already sounding stupid? It gets better.

As it turns out, these sorts of awareness programs cost money, what with buying ads singing the praises of the evergreen coniferous and such. Somewhere, deep in the animal brain that lives inside government bureaucrats, one or more such government employees figured out that the Christmas tree awareness program could be revenue neutral if the government -- wait for it -- imposed a fee on each Christmas tree sold to pay for the program.

While said fee is technically not a tax, what do you think the Republicans are calling it? Yep, the Christmas tree tax.

Granted, it's all of fifteen cents per tree, but that's not the point. The Obama administration is now saddled with the perception that -- in an economy suffering an almost Dickensian recession -- that it wants to tax Christmas trees.

Slightly more image-aware adults running around the West Wing caught wind of this yesterday, had varying degrees of minor coronaries, and did their very best to back-peddle and undo the damage. They've now uprooted the USDA program (which the USDA still claims it might run at a later date). So, at least for now, there won't be a Christmas tree tax.

But the marketing damage is done. Oh, so done.

The GOP candidates now have a new weapon to wield against President Ebenezer Obama and the Democratic party. Even though the misguided program has been well and thoroughly shot down, the Democrats can now be pointed to as the Grinch party, so out of touch that they want to steal Christmas and even tax Christmas trees.

Now, you and I both know that no one at a senior level of the Obama campaign or administration would have been stupid enough to let this program go forward. You and I both know that President Scrooge would never purposely decide to tax Christmas trees. The fact is, Obama and his campaign team just aren't that dumb.

But someone, somewhere down the chain of all those millions of government employees, that someone decided to try to do something he or she thoughtlessly thought was good. Someone else down that chain approved the idea to help the tree growers. This action, taken by some faceless government drones, has managed to give every GOP candidate, on every campaign trail, in every district, and in every precinct a wonderful Christmas present, all tied up in a little bow.

Mark my words: this isn't the last we've heard of the ill-considered Christmas tree tax. Oh, no. This little bundle of joy has legs.

If you're very, very quiet and listen very, very carefully, you can hear the ghost of Dick Cheney chortling and wheezing.

Topics: Government US, Banking, Government

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

102 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

    Like the so called "death panels" these irrelevant non-issues only become "scandals" if secondary media outlets decide to enable the inane, completely manufactured scandal by repeating and promoting the talking points of the right-wing propaganda mills that push them. So congratulations, ZDNET... you're now part of the problem.<br><br>This fee (which was requested by the Christmas Tree growers themselves) will cost the average consumer about 1 cent per year, and the average Christmas tree buyer about 16 cents per year (assuming a miniscule number actually buy more than one). But already I've seen a half dozen stories flogging this insignificant bit of legislation and playing it up as if it were a presidential order banning the use of incubators for premature infants.
    dsf3g
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g I laugh at you, because your post is EXACTLY what this article is talking about. So way to not read.
      Aerowind
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @Aerowind

        I should have been more clear: it's not just the mainstream media outlets repeating the message that are the problem, but also the outlets that report on the controversy itself, without taking sides, and even those outlets that post long correctives (like the above article). In other words these scandals "have legs" simply because they "have legs." The best way to dael with these non-issues is to ignore them.
        dsf3g
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @dsf3g (below)

        I think that you are missing the bigger point (and maybe everyone is) that the problem isn't how miniscule the tax burden would be or that the program was scuttled or that the President had no input on the implementation of the "bad idea"... but why do we the people have to pay for a program the makes Americans aware of the benifits of buying a Christmas tree? Shouldn't the industry be funding such a message for their own benefit? As should the beef council and the milk guild and the egg league?

        So, as a whole, it is something that should be brought up, repeatedly, and not as a mini stupidity incident, but a full blown examination as to why these programs exist and what benefit are they to us.
        toe cutter
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @Toe cutter
        Uh, read some other articles about this. This was requested by the industry and the 15 cents (only for growers with over 500 trees) are paying the 15 cents. Is this going to be passed on to consumers in the cost of the tree? Do you think your $95 christmas tree (they're much cheaper than that here in Oregon) is now going to cost you $95.15? No. And as for the Obama administration creating this, this program was initially okayed in 2008. Glenn Beck and Rush will have fun spinning this into something that it totally is not, but then that is the way they get listeners.
        boomchuck1
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @toe cutter

      The problem is that these attacks are purely opportunistic. they are not principled attacks on these sorts of programs, they simply take these programs as an excuse to levy an attack against the Obama adminsitration. Yeah, you can complain about these programs all you want, but don't pretend they are in any way exclusive to the Obama adminsitration (or Christmas trees).
      dsf3g
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @dsf3g Thank you for making your point... the whole time I was reading the article, I kept thinking that the problem wasn't anyone at the USDA, it was the pundits twisting the story.

        You're also right about this being opportunistic. If the GOP wants to attack Christmas tree fees (which is keeping with the GOP insistence that all new government programs have a source of revenue) then let's see them be fair and step up to the plate and start attacking tax breaks to Exxon-Mobil. If we shouldn't be paying to advertise Christmas trees, we certainly shouldn't be handing the wealthiest company in the world checks either.
        jgm@...
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @dsf3g I agree this is a none issue but again, I have to ask if you have an issue with this only because it's against the Obama administration? The same tactics have been used by both sides for years and probably won't stop anytime soon.
        non-biased
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g ,,, Think again; 15 cents is a foot in the door. Nextm It could be $1.50 and then $15,00 and then ... . Give an inch and all that. If it's not a familiar call to you, then you've been asleep and doing anything but learning from history exactly as our "great" gvt does. Great = fat.
      tom@...
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @tom@...

        Riiiight... I can think of nothing the the Christmas tree growers who asked for this fee would like better than for the government to levy a $15.00 per tree tax. Would do wonders for their business, no doubt.
        dsf3g
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @tom@...

        I know the [i]give them an inch[/i] story all too well.

        In the early 1970's the state of Illinois instituted an income tax of 0.75%; and I left the state, never to return. The last I hear is that it is now [b]over 5%[/b]. Where i live now, there [b]is NO state income tax[/b], and to institute one, the state Constitution must be amended. Suggesting that would be political `hara-kiri`.

        I have to agree with you, give the b-----ds one penny, and they will want a quarter next.
        fatman65536
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g You call it irrelevant, I call it rent-seeking. If the Christmas tree growers, or the milk producers or the solar panel manufacturers want to promote their products, let them pony up their own cash, not pay some Congressman to lean on a governing agency to do the dirty work for them. It doesn't matter if it's 15 cents per tree or 15 dollars.
      DaveDonaldson
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g To be fair the government should tax the Minora too. This is a much fun as Cities charging "Affordable housing in lieu Fees" on every house to make housing more affordable.
      LarsDennert
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g Absolutely. It's a nothing story, and growers lobbied the USDA for the awareness program, so do you think anyone, David included, could have stopped for a moment and made fun of the growers instead of the President? What passes for intelligent journalism in this country is just nothing short of stupefying.
      JoeFoerster
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @dsf3g So do you have the same outrage when the irrelevant non-issue that is being report on is twisted to make somebody on the right look bad or does it only bother you when it happens to somebody on the left?
      non-biased
  • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

    One of the first articles on this was from Fox News, and was completely inflammatory. It contained no information, and actually managed to mix up the words 15 cent and 15 PERCENT tax on trees in the same article. The comments on the article were the typical responses, "government trying to tax my christmas" and "obama wants to tax everything", as well as quite a few racial slurs. If you wanted to find out what the fee was actually for and who asked for it, you had to go to another news site.

    This is the problem. The tree industry has been losing sales, to the tune of millions of trees, every year. They needed advertising, but every time they tried to get together on the matter, it fell apart. The industry couldn't get it's act together. So, trees being an agriculture product, it made sense to ask the USDA for help. All they did was say, OK, we'll help you. We'll gather a whole FIFTEEN CENTS on each tree you produce. This is a tax on themselves, not on the consumer. This money would then pay for ads. If the industries could manage to work together for their OWN BENEFIT, none of this would be needed. But they cannot. Even though it benefits them all, they can't manage to do this simple task. So the government steps in to help, and gets blamed.

    What a load of crap. There's really nothing wrong with the plan. The only thing wrong are people that want to distort the truth like Fox News, or the Rebublicans. Someone tried to help, and didn't understand that there are predators like this out there willing to twist and distort anything you do into something evil. That's just pathetic.
    howardlang
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @howardlang But you miss the point! It doesn't matter who wanted the tax, or how good it was. The problem is that it was a tax levied by the Executive Branch. In the United States, taxes can only be levied from properly passes legislation from the legislative branch, then managed by the Executive branch. Taxing authority is solely restricted to legislation.

      And whether Fox News had 15 cents or 15 percent, they accurately reported the illegally exercised tax. If you choose to read your misguided intentions into the report, that is not Fox News' fault.
      mharr
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @mharr <br><br>Please stop spouting fox nonsense. Zdnet has more intelligent people here and it doesn't work. We like good reporting.<br><br>No, there's no missing the point. It wasn't a tax, it was a fee asked for by the National Tree Association. Fee is not equal to a tax. You are absolutely wrong, but you just want to twist reality in the typical fashion I addressed.<br><br>Choose to read misguided intentions? I read that they can't get facts right, and instead of actually reporting on facts, they chose to create a useless article. I'm not stupid, I know why... it's because that's what people such as yourself want to read.
        howardlang
      • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

        @mharr It is not a tax. You're paying way too much attention to Glenn & Rush & Fox. The growers are paying this money, voluntarily since they requested it back in 2008, to have the USDA (this is agriculture) promote their product. Do you really think you're going to be asked to hand over 3 more nickels at the Christmas tree lot this year?
        boomchuck1
    • RE: Bah! Humbug! Obama's Christmas tree tax and the price of message stupidity

      @howardlang Good background perspective on how industry groups work. This is the double-edged sword of politics vs. governance. Well-meaning individuals within the government sometimes can't help because the political baggage is explosive. Who would have thought helping tree growers would be a fissionable material? But it is.

      I value comments like Howard's. I'd like to see more like this.
      David Gewirtz