At the end of his press conference Monday, George W. Bush thanked reporters for coming, then wished them all "Happy holidays." We thought maybe it was some sort of capitulation in the war on Christmas, but it turns out that the president was simply being multicultural.
Shortly after the president finished speaking, the White House posted on its Web site the presidential messages for Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa. They're about what you'd expect from this White House: The Christmas message accepts the birth of the Messiah as a matter of fact -- "More than 2,000 years ago, a virgin gave birth to a Son, and the God of heaven came to Earth" -- while the president merely "sends greetings to those" celebrating the other holidays.
But this is where things get a little odd. In the president's Christmas message, he asks God to "watch over all of our men and women in uniform," including those "serving in distant lands, helping to advance the cause of freedom and peace." In his Chanukah message, the president expresses gratitude "for the courage and commitment of America's men and women in uniform" and prays "for their safety as they serve around the world to spread peace and liberty." But in his Kwanzaa message, Bush says nothing at all about men and women in uniform, about spreading freedom or liberty or peace, or about the war in Iraq. Instead, he offers a sort of generalized acknowledgment of the "many contributions African Americans have made to our country's character."
Among those contributions, of course, is service in the U.S. armed forces. According to a recent report, African-Americans comprise 25 percent of the enlisted ranks in the U.S. Army even though they make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Why doesn't Bush's Kwanzaa message mention the African-Americans serving in the military? Maybe the White House is being sensitive to the losses the African-American community has suffered in Iraq. Or maybe it's just that Bush figures that the war isn't the kind of thing he'd want to mention in a message aimed at African-Americans. As Pew pollster Michael Dimock said recently, "It would be hard to find a group where the war in Iraq is less popular."