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SANTA Claus has applied for a federal bailout of the Christmas industry.
Of course it was inevitable. As many others have come to Congress with their large beggars' cups, it makes sense that the U.S. government should underwrite an enterprise that is the great engine of seasonal commerce. After all, Santa is the major cheerleader for shopping, and where would we be without shopping? The whole economy would grind to a halt.
For want of holiday gift purchasing, malls would soon stand empty, tinsel factories would not shimmer with production, and tanker trucks would not arrive regularly to drain the vast vats of eggnog.
A note of full disclosure: As I am chubby and plump and a right jolly old elf in my own way, I have been advising Santa on how best to put his case in Washington.
For starters, I told him that he should avoid ostentatious forms of travel to the nation's capital, so no arriving with such a clatter in a flying sleigh pulled by tiny reindeer. If flying sleighs are part of the deal, the airline industry will want its share.
Nor should Santa drive his sleigh along the snow or ground from the North Pole. The congressmen have already heard quite enough from the auto industry without Santa passing himself off as the driver of another sort of toy-filled Hummer. Instead, I have suggested he hitch a lift with an ice road trucker.
Otherwise, it's either walking or using commercial aircraft for St. Nicholas. Perhaps Santa can transfer some of his frequent flier miles from the sleigh.
Timing is all-important. The great giveaway of the taxpayers' money is under way and it's important that Santa make his plea before the inauguration.
That's because everything that happens now - in the perception of certain Grinches - is not socialism but anything that happens when Barack Obama becomes president will be socialism.
Santa rubbed his tasseled cap in puzzlement when I told him this, but anyone who doesn't live in the Arctic Circle knows the political realities. Those Grinches are relentless.
For all these reasons, it is imperative that Santa make his plea immediately. I told the old man that he can't wait until the night before Christmas, when all through the House, not a creature is stirring, not even Nancy Pelosi.
And there should be none of this coming down the chimney stuff. He must come through the metal detectors like any other humble CEO wishing to petition the government for a bailout.
Santa must dress for success. I told him that he must get his beard trimmed and styled. No more bits of holly and reindeer droppings in the beard; that's not a good look when seeking congressional favor.
Of course, the red suit has to go. It will seem communistic to those congressmen who don't get out much. Santa can't go wrong if he wears a nice Brooks Brothers business suit. While I personally favor subdued neckties, I think a silk tie with festive candy canes is appropriate for the CEO of the Christmas industry.
The trick for Santa is to look like the head of a major financial institution.
He might get several billion dollars of the taxpayers' money right off the bat if he looks like a fellow who came to do business. I suggest that Santa offer to work for an annual salary of $1. He doesn't do it for the money anyway, just for the milk and cookies - and those would remain perks.
It goes without saying that he should keep the ho-ho-ho-ing to an absolute minimum, ditto the droll little mouth thing. He needs to look professional and that means keeping the elves out of sight. The media would have a field day with elves on Capitol Hill, particularly if they appear more dignified than members of Congress.
As I see it, the only political problem is that the North Pole toy complex is technically an offshore industry.
Santa needs to make the point that Christmas is a traditional American industry that has been spoiling American kiddies for well over 100 years.
He might do well to cite Thomas Friedman's latest book on the virtues of globalization, The North Pole Is Flat.
I told Santa that stressing his service to children is the key to congressional approval. Politicians are expert in framing political issues in terms of the kiddies - one thinks of famous legislation such as the Sludge Reclamation and Cute Tykes and Puppies Act and the Deforestation, Concrete Vistas and Little Girls With Pigtails Act.
So a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good bailout.
Reg Henry is deputy editorial page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org