Maxwell Jacobson, Wizard Wire International (WWI)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reiterating his administration’s commitment to pervasive and widely criticized NSA intelligence gathering, along with the importance of the glimmering Christmas spirit within his own heart, President Barack Obama today presented the Medal of Freedom to Santa Claus and thirteen other political and cultural honorees both living and dead in a ceremony at the White House.
“Now look, I know it’s not easy for most members of the press, but I sincerely suggest you all remain on your best behavior today,” the president joked with reporters, gesturing at Santa before delivering his prepared remarks. “Take it from me, as the leader of the free world – you do not wanna mess with this guy.”
The president’s lighthearted tone masked what has come in recent days to be seen as a controversial nomination for America’s highest civilian award. Recent revelations from documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to reporter Glenn Greenwald suggest that Kris Kringle himself has been a paid NSA contractor for years, if not decades. Writing last week for the Moroccan Arabic language daily Al-Massae, Greenwald reports that Santa has, for at least the last seven years but perhaps dating back to the 1970s, willingly cooperated with all requests for information from American intelligence services.
The controversy only escalated as members of Congress used unusually harsh language on Sunday talk shows, displaying a rare spirit of bipartisan agreement in denouncing the revelations.
“Let me be clear. We don’t usually award the Medal of Freedom to supernatural beings,” President Obama said in his speech. “Having said that, it seems to me a grave oversight that Santa Claus has had to wait so long for the kind of humble national recognition he deserves and which he has so clearly earned.
“Now. I know there are some reports out there that have some people pretty unhappy with me, and perhaps pretty unhappy with Santa Claus. To those of you out there who are upset, I want you to know that we feel your pain. I’m upset, too. But we’ve always known – since the great Allied victory of World War II that while Santa may be a citizen of the world and a resident of the North Pole, his blood runs American.” The president paused a moment to allow for the dizzy applause of Politico’s Mike Allen, Mark Halperin of Time, and the National Review‘s Major Garrett, all of whom had been heavily drinking spiced rum with a splash of egg nog.
NBC News‘ Chuck Todd began sputtering and appeared to blow a cerebral gasket, but the president ignored him and continued. “We all share the same goals – defeating the forces of extremism around the globe and making a world that’s safe for Americans and all our children. We may not agree on how we achieve that goal, but it’s a serious mistake to dismiss – or to condemn – a loyal contributor to the national security of the United States, whether that contributor wears a service uniform or a red velvet jumpsuit, whether that contributor drives a Humvee in foreign lands or a magical flying sleigh.
“When I was growing up with a single mother, we moved around a lot. But whether we were in Kansas, Hawaii, the Philippines, or elsewhere, I took comfort in one key truth – come Christmas, Santa would come through. And as our nation has moved from the struggles of the Cold War to those of global extremism, as I’ve grown from the Choom Gang to the Oval Office, Santa still comes through – always, for all of us.”
His remarks made for a curiously defiant response to the harsh tone of lawmakers and politicos on Sunday morning’s esteemed news forums.
Speaking remotely to Face the Nation from the Capitol Rotunda, Representative Mike Capuano (D – Mass) called for a new round of legislative hearings followed by a total overhaul of official policy at the embattled eavesdropping agency. He was joined by Representative Alan Grayson (D – Fla), who added that “Even Jewish Americans like myself recognize that Santa Claus and his vast resources should be out of bounds. We’ve got a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the American people. Let’s get the distractions out of the way so we can get to work creating jobs and addressing the economic inequality that matters most to working Americans.”
On ABC’s This Week, the panel included Senators Diane Feinstein (D – Cali), John McCain (R – Ari), and Lyndsey Graham (R – SC). “I liked the idea of listening to everything that everyone was saying, but I have felt very slighted because I should be more in the loop,” said Sen. Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “I’m still pissed about that, and I take it very personally, and that’s what I base my opinion on.”
“Senator Feinstein brings up a very important point,” added former republican presidential nominee Sen. McCain. “I would add my own personal concern that setting this kind of precedent in using a beloved holiday mascot to gather information will lead gradually to, frankly, dropping of our guard. This is exactly why we’re making dangerous deals with Iran instead of making sure they get bombed. Under the circumstances, I think it’s inappropriate for President Obama to grant this award this week.”
“We’re making dangerous deals with Santa Claus and Iran – there’s a direct line there,” Sen. Graham added, “and we’re not making sure they get bombed. Same with Syria. So, under the circumstances, it’s inappropriate for President Obama to grant this award.”
Appearing before David Gregory in the Meet the Press roundtable, former republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney denounced the move as offensive to Mormons and “other mainstream Christians like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists whose faith does not permit the recognition of Santa’s existence.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney, also on the panel, provided the morning’s sole dissenting opinion. “I’ve never been accused of forming my opinions around popular sentiment,” he remarked with characteristic darkness, “and I like this. We need more of it. The unpleasant truth is, without the use of waterboarding and other proven successful enhanced interrogation techniques, we’re in greater danger as a nation, and I commend President Obama for any and all executive overreach conducted in the name of the War on Terror.”
Fox News Sunday hosted the most vibrant display of the varied but angry Tea Party reaction to the revelations. “This is part and parcel with the bankrupting of America’s future through unions, ACORN, entitlements, abortion on demand, and welfare,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R – Tex). “I don’t want to have to shut down the whole government again, but I will if this president – wherever he may have been born – doesn’t get the heck away from Santa.”
“I may use this BS to help me run for president in 2016,” added Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R). “Principles are secondary – the question I need to be asking as an elected senator, along with my colleague Senator Cruz is, ‘Can I grandstand on this issue?’ The answer is unequivocally yes. I remember a day when we said ‘Merry Christmas,’ not ‘Happy Holidays,’ and I grew up knowing that Santa Claus was a Christian, not a democrat.”
“This is how it starts,” insisted commentator and former Nixon aide Patrick J. Buchanan. “This radical president, continually out of touch with Middle America, has chosen to honor not merely a non-citizen, but a non-human. This goes way beyond the pale – this is no mere abomination like gay marriage, not just the white-flag surrender to illegal aliens pouring across our borders from lazy cultures. Next thing you know, we’ll have chimpanzees, intelligent pigs, pixies and fairies, even desperate demons from hell coming in here and collecting welfare checks and food stamps and taking jobs from hard-working Americans.”
Civil liberties groups also raise objections. “The fact is, the American public and Santa Claus already had a strained relationship,” says Executive Director Anthony D. Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The fundamental individual liberty central to the American character is ultimately at odds with the fact that our annual Christmas rewards are arbitrated by a self-appointed, unelected, unaccountable being employing unethical behavior-based extortion, frankly. The only reason we’ve accepted this unusual arrangement for such a long era of our history has been a tacit understanding that Santa’s power and resources were confined solely to the business of Christmas. To find out now that he operates wholly independent from any commitment to privacy or discretion, well, that throws the whole deal out the window.”
“I love Santa – we all do,” the president continued in his speech at the ceremony. “He knows when you’re sleeping, when you’re awake, whether you’ve been bad or good, and when you’re planning terrorist attacks in your basement. He has cooperated in our efforts to put an end to such activity. From the unique vantage point of his flying antique carriage, he knows where two or more men aged between 16 an 45 – the terrorist demographic – are gathered together in places like Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. He sees more than our satellites do, and that’s how we keep America safe and grease them all. Santa, today I present you not merely with a neck ornament but with the gratitude of the greatest nation on Earth.”
Pundits rushed to characterize the president’s defiant response to criticism as a subtle shift in administration strategy. “Ever since the Snowden documents began their slow leak,” the Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman wrote, ”the president and his administration have walked a fine line between the political suicide of denouncing their own policies and embracing the more unpopular practices with too much enthusiasm. Today, in his speech awarding Santa Claus with the Medal of Freedom, they tipped their new strategy – and they’re doubling down.” In a post on his Wonkblog, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein parsed the significance further:
“The true test for President Obama, in light of a shift in tone that can only be described as game-changing, is whether or not uninformed people throughout the country believe that liberal government can work, and can work competently. What, for example, is the specific language contained within the agreement between Santa Claus, the NSA, and maybe the CIA – and does that language work? Being a rational liberal in 2013 means understanding that it’s not the principles behind the New Deal or the Great Society, or social welfare in general, that matters. What matters is how we can apply obscure facts to construct solutions and conclusions that will change day to day depending upon the news cycle. That’s as true for the Santa spy scandal as it is for Healthcare.gov, and the liberal base of the Democratic Party has to accept that in order to win the middle in ’14, ’16, and beyond.”
“We can’t keep seeing things in terms of left and right when the world has become a triangle. We’ve got people in India who get good grades, and India is full of people. These are people who don’t care about Santa Claus because they’re working smarter – not harder – to get their share of developing economic leverage and fluency. We’ve got Singapore, which is one of my favorite countries, where they have an authoritarian regime that is massively popular, and they know how to keep order by coercive persuasion of the population. They’re not focused on Santa Claus, either, because it’s more important to them that they continue to bake economic growth and innovation in their homes and taxi cabs. They don’t have time to listen to music or worry about Santa Claus.
The Chinese know better than anyone that they can’t afford to sit around opening presents and indulging in Santa. It’s time we start looking at whether our nativist, spherical-globed relationship with Santa Claus is allowing us to compete on the world stage. Look at even our allies in Europe – the Brits choose Father Christmas, Santa’s rival. It’s time we began to consider whether it might be in our own interest to follow suit. We’ll never produce more STEM graduates or apply the lessons of Malcolm Gladwell by clinging to the past. Department stores have largely disappeared – is Santa the spy the next victim of world economic innovation?”
Also receiving the award in today’s ceremony was Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director of The Lord of the Rings and the more recent two-part adaptation of The Hobbit. “As every serious fan knows, Mr. Jackson is an unserious person whose adaptations have ruined the spirit of Tolkien’s legacy,” the president remarked, “but it cannot be ignored that these stodgy works of literature will now solely be remembered by his films. For this New Zealand native to show such profoundly American character positively demands the thanks of the nation.” Three former senators were recognized for their service – Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles for charming Jon Stewart and harassing the public with their poor recommendations, and to Joe Liebermann for retiring. Among more obscure posthumous recipients was former Senator Arlen Specter. “Even if he hadn’t shamelessly betrayed his party by switching sides at a time most convenient for my administration,” Obama said, winding down his remarks, “he deserves artistic recognition for the brilliant creativity he displayed as a member of the Warren Commission at a crucial and tragic juncture in our nation’s history. I can only hope that all of us are capable of such feats of imagination in similar times of shared pressure and strain.”
Celebrity Gossip site TMZ is reporting that rapper Kanye West allegedly attempted to gain entry to the ceremony, apparently convinced that he was due to receive the award. According to the report, when he was told he would not be receiving a Medal of Freedom, he consumed a small plastic nip of Skyy vodka, spit some out onto the White House carpet, and attempted to set this section of carpet ablaze before being escorted out and assessed with a civil fine. This report was unconfirmed at press time.