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

Somehow, the Obama administration managed to turn Christmas trees into a topic that will provide the GOP with endless mirth and mocking hilarity.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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