Friday, December 21, 2007

'War on Christmas' comes home - A Response to The Berkshire Eagle's editorial

For once, FOR ONCE, The Berkshire Eagle actually puts a name to one of the out-of-touch Liberal effete who writes its Lefty psycho-babble editorials.
And brother, is this particular editorial distinctly out of touch!
The guys up there in The Eagle's nest just don't get it (and it's doubtful they ever will, at least not until circulation bottoms out at 57 -- the number who actually work for the paper -- and that time doesn't appear too far off).
Editorial writer Michael Scott Leonard refuses to admit that Bill O'Reilly is actually on to something, and that the Great Barrington Selectmen stepped in it bigtime with the cameras rolling for all to see on national television.
(The heck with the hundreds of cable operators across the USA that receive O'Reilly, even Time-Warner in North Adams transmits The O'Reilly Factor program and the entire county got to see close-up just how dumb the GB Selectmen made themselves look.)
Worse, each of these "representatives of the people of Great Barrington" has wimped out by saying no to O'Reilly's invitation to appear on The Factor to confront Ol' Bill himself head-on (not the mere minion sent to GB).
When given the opportunity to give GB's side of the story -- if there was one -- South County's 'Fabulous Five' blew it (again)!
If O'Reilly is such a blowhard, Selectboys and girl, why not just say it to his face on national television?
You could've really showed him what you're made of!
Instead, you've shown Berkshire County exactly what stuff that is.
Just for this, Great Barrington ought now to raise next year's Chrismas light budget to $1 million and flood the streets 24/7 with colorful, dancing lights -- and ask Al Gore to officiate at the big lighting ceremony.

'War on Christmas' comes home
By Michael Scott Leonard
Friday, December 21

Who knew our sleepy, rural county would land the first volley in third annual War on Christmas — the Shot Heard Round the Blogosphere.
Bill O'Reilly officially fired back against the parasitic secularism of Great Barrington's heathen Selectmen, shining the national spotlight on the town's decision to conserve energy by dimming its Christmas lights at 10 p.m. with a three-minute segment on his Fox News program, "The O'Reilly Factor." The oasis of socialist heresy that is Taxachusetts must make an inviting target for a paragon of faith, small government and Middle American values like O'Reilly, but no one could have imagined he would deign to condescend to our modest region.
Never mind that Derek Gentile's article on the subject ran nearly a month ago; O'Reilly realized that Americans were too stuffed on Thanksgiving turkey at the time to muster the requisite outrage. Instead, his show waited to broach the subject.
He must know his public. The Eagle received antagonistic letters from all over the Deep Red South, including one from a Texan threatening to string extra Christmas lights to "carbon-offset" Great Barrington's green initiative.
All joking aside — and notwithstanding the size of the town — this is a moment that should have slipped well below the radar of the culture war. Thursday's Eagle editorial was right to draw a distinction between Great Barrington's "legitimate" environmental concerns and political correctness. Indeed, while calling Christmas lights "holiday lights" may be silly, banning them without just cause is a clear violation of the First Amendment. But the Selectmen voted to allow the lights, with a qualifying condition that rationally addressed a compelling concern.
The O'Reilly piece took pains to portray the Selectmen as overweening latté liberals, "rich elitists ... imposing their ideology on this small town." But dimming Christmas lights — whatever you call them — when no one is around to see them is not a political gesture; it is simply responsible.
Still, making that point doesn't require abstaining from the question O'Reilly's contrived, carpet-bagging hysteria raised. Yesterday's editorial concedes too much in implying that proactively secular statements should be held to a different standard than sensibly environmental gestures.
First, there is the small issue of ours being an avowedly — indeed, foundationally — secular country.
But just as importantly, it's not the fear of offending shrill liberals or the apocryphally domineering PC-police that has led many mainstream groups — civic, corporate and otherwise — to replace "Christmas" with more broadly applicable terms like "holiday" whenever reasonable. In fact, these substitutions are made in the quintessentially American — and Christian — spirit of ecumenical pluralism.
Are there times and places at which to replace "Christmas" with the generic "holiday" would be verbally cautious to the point of silliness? Sure. "Holiday lights" may qualify, or it may not. When you're wished "Happy Holidays" at Midnight Mass, maybe it's time to ring Bill O'Reilly. Altered lyrics to Bach's Liturgies should set off alarm bells.
Until we get there, however, O'Reilly is simply pandering to what the Philadelphia-based journalist Randy LoBasso (full disclosure: a friend of mine) once called "the phony outrage base" of America's right wing.
The phony outrage base consists of "pundits," "commentators" and other reactionary blowhards and bloviators seeking to distract Americans from the serious issues our country faces by appealing to the worst in people and stirring up irrational, often hateful passions. O'Reilly and his ilk don't find and exploit "wedge issues," as the conventional wisdom holds. They conjure them out of thin air.
In this case, the specter against which the phony outrage base hopes to mobilize public sentiment is the very spirit of pluralism embodied by an inclusive holiday greeting. Intolerant insularity — fear of "the other" — is the animating, if unspoken, principle underlying most of the far right's pet causes: xenophobic opposition to illegal immigration; our holy wars in the Middle East; hostility to the First Amendment rights of the secular or moderately religious; institutional homophobia; and the paranoid anti-intellectualism that has bred hostility toward all science, particularly environmentalism of the sort exhibited by the Great Barrington Selectmen.
Like other self-styled culture warriors of the right, O'Reilly relies on straw men to make his case. His claim — repeated by his guest, producer Jesse Watters — that the town Christmas lights draw sorely needed tourist dollars is not actually outlandish. It's just bogus — and all the more insidious for its plausibility.
Accoutrements like Christmas lights are, indeed, part of Great Barrington's quaint appeal. But, unlike Bill O'Reilly, I've been to Great Barrington. It's not Times Square: There is precious little shopping after 10 p.m., the hour at which the lights must be extinguished — a consideration the Selectmen obviously took into account when drafting the regulation. Anyone intent on shopping for trinkets or curios at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday won't be discouraged by the absence of conspicuous holiday cheer.
There may be more practical and direct ways of reducing energy consumption than enforcing a curfew on Christmas lights. But as long as the inconvenience is phony, it couldn't hurt.

Michael Scott Leonard is a Berkshire Eagle staff writer.

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A Look at 'The New Puritanism': Gt. Barrington's 'War on Christmas'

Photos - Top: Fox News Commentator Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor.
Middle and Bottom: Great Barrington's entire Christmas light display crossing Main Street and Railroad Street. Per order of the town Selectmen, curfew for the light show is 10 PM. (Middle photo by Will Whitehorn, The Berkshire Record newspaper)
Thank you, Mr. O'Reilly!
The local newspapers, especially The Berkshire Eagle, hate it when an observant, media-connected outsider (meaning someone from outside Berkshire County) draws attention to (and pricks) the little bubble of fantasy that so many Berkshire locals choose to live in.
It's especially galling for it to happen before a national TV audience showcased on a program like The O'Reilly Factor.
One misconception I wish to correct. You claim that 'rich elitists from New York City' are moving up here and 'imposing their ideology on this small town.'
The fact is that most second-home owners (the bulk from New York and New Jersey) and 'snow-birds' (retirees who fly to Florida in Winter) refuse to register to vote here. Thus, they don't get to choose Selectmen or influence decision-making. (They just have the privilege of paying the lion's share of local property taxes.)
No, Bill, this isn't outsiders moving to the Berkshires and imposing a point of view.
What is happening can be called 'The New Puritanism'. It's home-grown. It's about blue Massachusetts, and it thrives right here in the heart of bluer Berkshire County.
It's political correctness, good intentions, and the Liberal Left's agenda run amok.
I look forward to seeing if any of the Selectmen will have the gonads to defend their latest bit of silliness done in the name of 'social consciousness'.
So far, though, it doesn't look as if any of these local paragons are going to appear on The Factor to defend or to debate ideology. Selectman co-chairman Ronald Dlugosz claims he is "not a fan of Fox". This is the man's rationale for not appearing on a national stage to defend his integrity or the logic of his Luddite point of view.
And so the man makes himself and the other Great Barrington town officials (and by geographical connection, the rest of Berkshire County) a laughing-stock across the country.

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