An analysis of the Obamas' Christmas speeches reveals that the same four-part jingoistic formula operates in all eight versions. The two spouses take turns praising God, praising the troops and inflicting guilt. And pretty soon we get the idea that both God and War, saints and soldiers, require the same kind of homage and sacrifice from the laity, a/k/a the civilian population.
The militaristic religious propaganda of Mr. and Mrs. Obama is not unique or original by any means. Its time-tested authoritarian formula aims to scare people into accepting the state-sanctioned violence which has been the m.o. of armchair warriors since time immemorial. If you claim to have God on your side, bloodshed and immiseration of The Other on a global scale become not only acceptable, but virtues to be actively sought after.
The Obamas' annual Christmas spiels can thus be summarized as follows:
1. The set-up: We Obamas have scads of fun, and decorations, and music, and parties, and food, and adorable kids, and cute pets at the White House -- just like your families enjoy in your idealized safe warm homes all over America! (Or, if you happen to be broke and depressed, just imagine that we are at least offering you an invisible neoliberal ladder of opportunity to achieve all your holiday dreams someday.)
2. Jesus, Jesus, and Jesus. Jesus was born. Jesus had a family. Jesus was the savior of the world. Jesus suffered and died for our sins. We honor his sacrifice to avoid feeling guilty as we eat, drink and open presents on his birthday.
3. The armed fighting forces of America also have families. They also are our saviors. They also sacrifice and suffer and die for us. You must also sacrifice as you honor and support the troops and their lethal guns and bombs and planes and tanks. You should help their long-suffering hardworking families, and dwell upon their hardships so as to avoid complaining about your own. If only everyone could be as noble and selfless and Christ-like as they are.
4. Therefore, since the troops are saints, then it naturally follows that Jesus is A-OK with state-sanctioned violence. Onward, Christian secular soldiers. And God Bless Us, Every American One.
Of course, depending upon whatever malignantly plotted or natural disaster befalls us in any given year, there are always minor tweaks to the Obamas' monotonous joy-spreading and war-mongering. For several years the president boasted that the troops would be coming home from Afghanistan. But beginning in 2015, the same year that he announced that troops would remain there for at least another 20 years, he gave up all Yuletide pretense that there will be peace in our time. Even Obama has his standards, apparently.
So just for the hellish fun of it, let's take a compare-and-contrast stroll down Jingoism Bells Lane to Obama Christmases past.
2009. The Victorious Year of Hope and Recovery on Wall Street, and Eviction and Depression on Main Street.
Barack: But even in these tough times, there’s still so much to celebrate this Christmas. A message of peace and brotherhood that continues to inspire more than 2,000 years after Jesus’ birth. The love of family and friends. The bonds of community and country. And the character and courage of our men and women in uniform who are far from home for the holidays, away from their families, risking their lives to protect ours.2010. The Year of the Republican shellacking, and the abrupt end of Obama's super-majority in Congress. Obama had willfully set the reactionary stage for his party's defeat. He was, in fact, head cheerleader for austerity. With little to no pressure from the minority Republicans, he'd screwed the working class, rewarded the banks, and appointed ruling class members of the safety net-slashing bipartisan Bowles-Simpson "Catfood" Commission, whose agenda was directly funded by Wall Street billionaire Peter Peterson.
Michelle: I’ve met kids who wonder when mom or dad is coming home; grandparents and relatives who step in to care for our wounded warriors; and folks trying to carry on after losing the person they loved most in the world.
And through it all, these families somehow still find the time and energy to serve their communities as well—coaching Little League, running the PTA, raising money to help those less fortunate than they are, and more.
Barack: Because this is the season when we celebrate the simplest yet most profound gift of all: the birth of a child who devoted his life to a message of peace, love, and redemption. A message that says no matter who we are, we are called to love one another – we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper, our separate stories in this big and busy world are really one.(For more information on the "Joining Forces" public relations war initiative which Michelle Obama touts during the final seven Christmas talks, please see the post I wrote in 2011 about the national security think tank, Center for a New American Security, and the Wall Street/weapons manufacturing money which funds it. Michelle Obama is the perfect warm, caring actor projecting the soft power essential to getting citizens to accept the gory US imperialism being conducted in all our names.)
Today, we’re also thinking of those who can’t be home for the holidays – especially all our courageous countrymen serving overseas.
That’s the message I delivered when I visited our troops in Afghanistan a few weeks ago – that while you may be serving far from home, every American supports you and your families. We’re with you. And I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander in Chief.... (They are) a force of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives.
Michelle: When our men and women in uniform answer the call to serve, their families serve, too. And they’re proud and glad to do it. But as long as that service keeps the rest of us safe, their sacrifice should also be our own. Even heroes can use a hand, especially during the holidays.
2011. The year of Occupy Wall Street and its brutal dismantling by the Police State. The year of Deficit Mania, and the Grand Bargain of more severity and austerity for the struggling masses. The year that Obama grotesquely compared the government budget to the family budget and urged the poor to "share the sacrifice." And it's the year that Obama began his $1 billion faux-populist re-election campaign. For the first time, the Obamas in their Christmas cheer also suggested private charity to non-military families suffering under the plethora of sadistic, reactionary bipartisan budget cuts. At no time did they ever suggest government intervention to help the hungry and the homeless and jobless.
Michelle: This is such a wonderful time of year.
It’s a time to honor the story of love and redemption that began 2,000 years ago … a time to see the world through a child’s eyes and rediscover the magic all around us … and a time to give thanks for the gifts that bless us every single day.
This holiday season at the White House, we wanted to show our thanks with a special holiday tribute to some of the strongest, bravest, and most resilient members of our American family – the men and women who wear our country’s uniform and the families who support them.... Our veterans, troops and their families sacrifice so much for us.
Barack: Giving of ourselves; service to others – that’s what this season is all about. For my family and millions of Americans, that’s what Christmas is all about. It reminds us that part of what it means to love God is to love one another, to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. But that belief is not just at the center of our Christian faith, it’s shared by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. It’s why so many of us, every year, volunteer our time to help those most in need; especially our hungry and our homeless.2012. The Year of the Osama bin Laden execution, the revelation of Obama's personal White House Kill List, Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown Massacre, and the president's re-election. Since all was well in the Obamas' world, they assumed that all was well all over the country. Everybody's picking up their kid from college, and everybody has a house and a car and visiting grandparents and a washing machine. Even if the children of out-of-work coal miners aren't even getting a lump of coal in their stockings this year, the Obamas won another term. They're so absolutely basking in the glow of their own political success that they simply cannot suppress the maudlin, psychotic hypocrisy in their fourth yuletide sermon to America:
Michelle: We both love this time of year. And there’s nothing quite like celebrating the holidays at the White House. It’s an incredible experience and one that we try to share with as many folks as possible.
Barack: This weekend, parents are picking up their kids from college – and making room for all that laundry they bring with them. Children are counting down the hours until the grandparents arrive. And uncles, aunts and cousins are all making their way to join the family and share in the holiday spirit....
And this year, that’s especially true for some of our military families. You see, the war in Iraq is over. The transition in Afghanistan is underway. After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home. And all across America, military families are reuniting.
So this week let’s give thanks for our veterans and their families. And let’s say a prayer for all our troops – especially those in Afghanistan – who are spending this holiday overseas, risking their lives to defend the freedoms we hold dear.
Michelle: Our military families sacrifice so much on our behalf, and Barack and I believe that we should serve them as well as they serve this country.2013.The year Obama started campaigning in earnest for the secretive corporate coup known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the year that progressives started campaigning in earnest against it. The year of more bipartisan slashes to the social safety net, as the House Minority Leader urged Democrats to "embrace the suck" and to go along with cuts to food stamp funding and ending long-term unemployment benefits, while vastly enriching the war and surveillance state. And last but not least, it was the year that Edward Snowden spilled the beans on the National Security Agency and the massive government surveillance of every man, woman and child. Even so, the Obamas cluelessly bragged about volunteering in a soup kitchen for a few hours:
Barack: For my family and millions of Americans, it’s a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. To reflect on His life and learn from His example. Every year, we commit to love one another.
Barack: Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays. But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family. They’re spending some extra time on the phone with their loved ones back home. Or they’re setting up video chats so they can watch as the presents are opened. So today, we want all of our troops to know that you’re in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season.2014. The year of the lowest mid-term election voter turnout in 70 years, and the ensuing loss of a record number of Democratic congressional seats. The year that Obama announced, falsely, that the war in Afghanistan was over. The year that Obama continued the evisceration of civil rights and signed into law the renewal of the Patriot Act, and codified indefinite detention and unlimited surveillance on citizens via the National Defense Authorization Act. The year that Obama signed into law the plutocrat-enriching "Cromnibus Bill" which, among other holiday treats, privatized public housing stock, cut funding to agencies tasked with regulating big banks, cut funding for Pell Grants, cut funding to pension plans, and did away with requiring that truck drivers get enough sleep before hitting the Interstates. It was the year that Obama casually mentioned at a press conference that "we tortured some folks" during the Bush era. It was the year that he characterized sadists as "patriots." Perpetrators were not only never prosecuted, they still work at the CIA and their neocon bosses have gone on to much professional and financial success.
And here’s the good news: For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they’ve been with their families on Christmas. In fact, with the Iraq war over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm’s way than at any time in the last decade.
Michelle: And with more and more of our troops back here at home, now it’s our turn to serve – it’s our turn to step up and show our gratitude for the military families who have given us so much.
Barack: For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us – to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper.
Barack: And today, our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves.... In just a few days, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. Our longest war will come to a responsible end. And that gives us an opportunity to step back and reflect upon all that these families have given us. We’re able to gather with family and friends because our troops are willing to hug theirs goodbye and step forward to serve. After a long day, we can come home because they’re willing to leave their families and deploy. We can celebrate the holidays because they’re willing to miss their own.2015. The Year that America conducted a deadly bombing attack on an Afghanistan hospital, killing more than 50 doctors, nurses and patients. Perpetrators were never criminally charged; they were simply denied future promotions. It was the year when the Obama administration brokered another billion-dollar weapons deal with the Saudis for purposes of slaughtering Yemeni civilians. It was the year that Obama announced a trillion-dollar upgrade to American's nuclear weapons program, and the US beat the record for arms sales; it sold $40 billion worth in just one year. And it was the year that the legacy-burnishing phase of Obama's presidency began in earnest while Hillary Clinton geared up for her own ill-starred campaign for the presidential succession.
Michelle:And so, as our troops continue to transition back home—back to our businesses, our schools, our congregations, and our communities—it’s up to all of us to serve them as well as they have served us.
And it was the first year that Obama didn't lie in his Christmas speech about the troops coming home. Even so, Michelle half-admits that the Obama years have been one hell of a snow-job on the American public:
Barack: Today, like millions of Americans and Christians around the world, our family celebrates the birth of Jesus and the values He lived in his own life. Treating one another with love and compassion. Caring for those on society’s margins: the sick and the hungry, the poor and the persecuted, the stranger in need of shelter – or simply an act of kindness....(The bellicose dream will never die. War is forever. Get used to it. Give war a great big Michelle-ish hug, and overcome any sickly inhibitions that afflict you during this joyous season.)
During this season, we also honor all who defend those values in our country’s uniform. Every day, the brave men and women of our military serve to keep us safe – and so do their families.
Michelle: So as we sing carols and open presents, as we win snowball fights... Let’s also take time to pay tribute to those who have given our country so much. Go to JoiningForces.gov to see how you can serve the troops, veterans, and military families in your community.
And together, we can show them just how grateful we are for their sacrifice. That’s a tradition we all can embrace – today and every day.
2016. The year that, shockingly, Barack Obama's Democratic Party utterly collapsed. In the eight years of Obama, the party has lost over 1,000 Congressional, governors' and state legislative seats, leaving it with a bench as thin as Oliver Twist's gruel. So this Christmas, Barack and Michelle are going very heavy on the light and airy sweetness in their valedictory holiday speech. In a variation on the holiday theme, they are uttering the word "Muslim" for the very first time in their yuletide lecture series. This verbal cultural inclusiveness is designed to make us forget all about Obama's own anti-Muslim wars and drone strikes in order that we may correctly direct our wrath at Donald Trump's asinine grinchiness and nuke-threatening tweets. And would it really be Christmas if Barry didn't keep insisting how great America already is, and what a truly Wonderful Life it is for all of us, despite the worklessness, the dwindling paychecks, the evictions and the unaffordable health care? So forget about Trump. If the Obamas are satisfied and hopeful, then we should be satisfied and hopeful too.
Barack: Together, we fought our way back from the worst recession in 80 years, and got unemployment to a nine-year low. We secured health insurance for another twenty million Americans, and new protections for folks who already had insurance. We made America more respected around the world, took on the mantle of leadership in the fight to protect this planet for our kids, and much, much more.George Orwell must be caroling in his grave, now that Michelle has essentially plagiarized 1984 just in time for Christmas. War Is Peace (there could be no enjoyable Christmas without endless war) is the perfect segue into Donald Trump's own cadging of another essential part of Big Brother's motto: Ignorance Is Strength.
By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we first got here. And I’m hopeful we’ll build on the progress we’ve made in the years to come.
Michelle: As always, many of our troops are far from home this time of year, and their families are serving and sacrificing right along with them. Their courage and dedication allow the rest of us to enjoy this season.
To counter the Obamas' propaganda, I offer the following antidote:
And once the holiday weekend is over, here's my suggestion for a new national anthem in this Age of Trump, to replace the blood-soaked Star Spangled Banner.