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TRMS Explores Literacy Tests in Our Nations Voting History

Posted by: Audiegrl

Rachel Maddow ShowMSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reviews the history of how “literacy tests” were used to prevent Black people from voting in America and why Tom Tancredo’s opening speech to the Tea Party convention calling for the return of those tests is so abhorrent. Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree shares his insights on racism in the United States.

This clip caught my attention, because as Rachel pointed out, this is not ancient history, the Voting Rights bill was passed in 1965, when I was three years old. The topic also reminded me of a story my parents told me. But a little background first. Although, they came to Northern Illinois in 1942, the first election they were ‘allowed’ to vote in, was for President John F. Kennedy. Seriously… They were not in the Southern states that Rachel mentioned, but in the North. I’m not sure all the literacy tests they were given, except for one. My mother was given the task to name all of Shakespere’s sonnets. She didn’t pass that test, so she was not allowed to vote.

When they voted for President Kennedy, they went as a group from the American Legion, because my father served honorably in World War II. My Great-Uncle also went with him that day, he served honorably in World War I. Amazingly although both were veterans, this was the first vote for both of them, and they sure were proud. 🙂

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First Lady Michelle Obama Visits the Department of Commerce

Posted by: Audiegrl

The focus of this administration has always been but it really will be in this year on job creation

Remarks by the First Lady: Hey! (Applause.) All right, so who would have thought that the Department of Commerce was so happening? (Laughter.) You guys are alive. There’s energy here. Thank you. I am thrilled to be here. It is exciting for me to come and see you. I’ve been planning to come for a little bit, but now I’m here.

I want to thank your dear Secretary, Secretary Locke, for that kind introduction and for his outstanding work for this Department. And I want to take this moment to wish him a happy birthday, yes — (applause) — as a fellow Capricorn, right — (laughter) — that’s what you are, that’s what it is, yes. And he doesn’t look a day over 30, 35, right? (Laughter and applause.) Whatever the number, my husband and I wish you a happy birthday, and we are so proud of the work that you’re doing here at the Department of Commerce.

You didn’t exactly start this job at a quiet time for the agency, right? From the economic challenges that we face, to the challenge of conducting our census, which I know many of you are involved in — let’s hear it for the census people — (applause) — I think that it’s fair to say that your Secretary has had a pretty busy year. But he’s risen to the occasion, leading by example, calling on more than 50,000 employees of this Department to give their jobs everything they’ve got. And it feels like, in here, that you all are doing just that. Am I right? (Applause.)

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Welcome to 44’D’s Happy Holiday’s Special

We here at The 44 Diaries would like to say Thank You for participating in our blog and we hope that you all have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. We also hope that you get to spend plenty of time with the people you love the most…

Please note: We will be keeping this up all week in celebration, but will be posting political news in the top section next to ‘Home’.



History of Christmas




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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

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Celebrating Kwanzaa



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Santa Claus Through History



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Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

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Twenty-Five Days of Christmas Music Videos

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Christmas Around the World



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Fun Filled Christmas Facts



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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas in the Age of Dickens



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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914



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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s 2009




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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

Like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has traditions surrounding the holiday season as well. Sit back, and get comfortable, while we explore how Presidents have celebrated Christmas from President George Washington to President Barack Obama.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ President Calvin Coolidge

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History of Christmas at the White House (1789-1849)



President George Washington and First Lady Martha (1789-1797)
President John Adams and First Lady Abigale (1797-1801)
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
President James Madison (1809-1817)
President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth (1817-1825)
President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa (1825-1829)
President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel (1829-1837)
President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna (1841-1841)
President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia (1841-1845)
President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah (1845-1849)
President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret (1849-1850)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1850-1901)

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President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline (1850-1853)
President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane (1853-1857)
President James Buchanan (1857-1861)
President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary (1861-1865)
President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth (1865-1869)
President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia (1869-1877)
President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy (1877-1881)
President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia (1881-1881)
President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen (1881-1885)
President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis (1885-1889, (1893-1897)
President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary (1889-1893)
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida (1897-1901)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1901-1953)

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President Theodore Roosevelt and First Ladies Alice and Edith (1901-1909)
President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen (1909-1913)
President Woodrow Wilson and First Ladies Ellen and Edith (1913-1921)
President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence (1921-1923)
President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace (1923-1929)
President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou (1929-1933)
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor (1933-1945)
President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess (1945-1953)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

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President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) (1963-1969)
President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia (1969-1974)
President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty (1974-1977)

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History of Christmas at the White House (1977-2009)

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President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (1977-1981)
President Ronald Regan and First Lady Nancy (1981-1989)
President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara (1989-1993)
President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary (1993-2001)
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush (2001-2008)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (2009- )


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The History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie 1953-1961

As General of the United States Army and Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower easily became a well-liked man on domestic soil due to his military triumphs overseas. With the campaign slogan, “I Like Ike,” Eisenhower captured the majority vote in a landslide victory during the election of 1952, becoming the 34th President of the United States of America.

During his first Christmas in the White House in 1953, Eisenhower referred to Hallmark President Joyce C. Hall for assistance with his first official Christmas cards as the President of the U.S. An artist himself, Eisenhower painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln while waiting for news on a Korean armistice. For inspiration, he used a photograph of Lincoln done by Alexander Gardner in 1863. Eisenhower ordered 1,100 white keepsake folders from Hallmark, each containing a reproduction of his Lincoln painting.

Signed card was sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie

Signed card was sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie

All of the folders were embossed with the official Presidential Seal. Over 500 of the reproductions were given to White House staff members at the annual Christmas party. Each folder was accompanied by a gift enclosure Christmas card imprinted with the words “Season’s Greetings” in gold.

Unlike other Presidents who distinguished political from household staff, the Eisenhower’s brought both together, more than 500 in all, for a Christmas party each year. For the White House staff, Mamie purchased gifts in area department stores, personally wrapping each one to save money.

Mamie Bangs gift enclosure Christmas cards design from 1957

Mamie Bangs gift enclosure Christmas cards design from 1957

As a gift from the American Public Golf Association, a putting green was installed on the South Lawn of the White House grounds for the President to enjoy. Echoing this gift, Hallmark designed a red and green accented “Mamie Bangs” personal gift enclosure Christmas card depicting the President and First Lady in a golf cart loaded with a Christmas tree and gifts. The First Family had 400 of these gift enclosure Christmas cards printed to send to close friends and relatives.

The 2005 Secret Service Eisenhower Executive Office Ornament

The 2005 Secret Service Eisenhower Executive Office Ornament

Christmas of 1958, Mamie pulled out all the stops in decorating the White House. She had 27 decorated trees, carols were piped into every room and greenery was wrapped around every column. Eisenhower Christmas trees in the White House were decorated with electric candle lights, glass balls and large amounts of tinsel. We have decorated our tree in pink because by 1955, “First Lady Pink” had become a bona fide color for hats, gloves, dresses, and nylon curtains as well as many other things

The Eisenhowers holding Christmas dinner in 1960

The Eisenhowers holding Christmas dinner in 1960

1960 marked Eisenhower’s last Christmas in the White House, and he wanted it to be the most memorable Christmas ever. A 75-foot Douglas fir cute from Oregon was used for the National Community Christmas Tree. The President’s Christmas message made mention of putting an end to prejudice because it puts “a blot on the brightness of America’s image.” He ended the night by saying, “For the last time as a part of this lovely ceremony, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very, very happy New Year – all of you.”

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President Eisenhower’s Christmas Wishes From Space 1958

Having launched its first space satellite in January 1958, the United States launched an unique communications satellite on December 18, 1958 for the Christmas season. The recorded voice of President Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed the wishes of the American people for peace and goodwill.

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President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline 1961-1963

John F. Kennedy was a Massachusetts senator when he declared his intent to run for President for the election of 1960. Defeating Hubert Humphrey for the democratic candidacy, Kennedy ran against Republic Richard M. Nixon, who was also the Vice President of the lame duck Eisenhower administration. During the first ever televised U.S. presidential debates in late September, less than two months before the election, Kennedy trumped Nixon with his poised, relaxed demeanor and handsomely tan appearance. Nixon, who was sporting his perpetual five o’clock shadow, appeared tense on camera and was 20 pounds underweight due to a serious leg injury from which he was recovering.

1961 Christmas gift from the Kennedys to their White House staff

1961 Christmas gift from the Kennedys to their White House staff

For the Kennedys’ first Christmas in the White House in 1961, as a Christmas gift to their staff they gave a photograph of little Caroline Kennedy’s ducks in the fountain on the South Lawn with the White House in the background. Caroline, who was only five-years-old at the time, had raised the yellow-beaked white ducks from baby ducklings. After several months of trying to keep the Kennedy’s terrier, Charlie, from eating her fine-feathered friends, they were transported to safer grounds in Rock Creek Park located in northwest D.C. Before the ducks’ transfer, the President’s personal photographer, Cecil Stoughton, snapped the memorable picture of the ducks in the fountain.

First official White House Christmas cards from President Kennedy in 1961

First official White House Christmas cards from President Kennedy in 1961

For the President’s official White House Christmas cards, Hallmark produced a design similar to the ones from Eisenhower’s presidency. The 1961 White House Christmas cards featured a wide green silk screen ban on a smooth white stock accompanied by the official Presidential Seal and the sentiment “Season’s Greetings 1961” engraved in gold. The imprint read: “The President and Mrs. Kennedy wish you a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Kennedy ordered 800 official Christmas cards from Hallmark. Additionally, since the President was sending Christmas cards to leaders around the world, he ordered 100 cards with a general New Year’s imprint that did not make any mention of Christmas.

Caroline Kennedy's attention as she inspects it before a party for White House employees given by her parents, December 1961

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” ballet. Mrs. Kennedy reused these ornaments in 1962 for her childrens’ theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.

2004 American President Collection John F. Kennedy Ornament

2004 American President Collection John F. Kennedy Ornament

On December 20, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson lit the 75-foot Washington state Douglas fir, initiating the first Pageant of Peace during the Kennedy administration. The President could not be present at the ceremony because the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, suffered a stroke and the First Family flew down to Palm Beach, Florida to be with him. Johnson delivered the official Christmas message to the American people. He spoke of the nation’s dedication to seeking world peace, comparing that dedication to Christ’s quest for unity.

The President and Mrs. Kennedy at the White House Staff Christmas reception, 12 December 1962.

President Kennedy had almost 2,000 official White House Christmas cards produced by Hallmark. Edward Lehman, an advertising illustrator, was commissioned to sketch some renderings of the rooms for the home furnishings section of the Philadelphia Bulletin. The First Lady took a particular liking to Lehman as well as his artistry, and at his request, he was invited back to the White House to paint a 20 x 30-inch watercolor of the Red Room for the Kennedys. The President and First Lady were so impressed with Lehman’s watercolor that they had it reproduced for their 1962 Christmas gifts to their White House staff.

The official presidential Christmas cards from 1962

The official presidential Christmas cards from 1962

The official White House Christmas cards were a bit different than ones from designs of recent years past. Instead of a formal design featuring a “Season’s Greetings” sentiment and the Presidential Seal, the President’s official Christmas cards from 1962 featured a photograph taken by Cecil Stoughton of a snow-covered White House lawn. With the executive mansion in the background, the foreground depicted Mrs. Kennedy sitting with John Jr. in a one-horse open sleigh being led by Caroline’s pony, Macaroni.

John F. Kennedy and Jacquelyn Kennedy celebrate the season around the Christmas tree with their children Caroline and John Jr., the former First Lady's sister Lee Radziwill, her husband Prince Stanislaus Radziwill and their children Anthony and Ann Christine and two of their furry friends in 1962

John F. Kennedy and Jacquelyn Kennedy celebrate the season around the Christmas tree with their children Caroline and John Jr., the former First Lady's sister Lee Radziwill, her husband Prince Stanislaus Radziwill and their children Anthony and Ann Christine and two of their furry friends in 1962. Photo taken at Kennedy seniors' residence in Palm Beach

Before his untimely death, the President and First Lady decided upon a Christmas gift to give to their executive staff members, which Mrs. Kennedy also proceeded in bestowing. The gifts were mounted reproductions of the President’s favorite William Henry Bartlett engraving, The President’s House, From Washington, which hung in his office. Each reproduction was signed by the President and First Lady: “With deepest appreciation, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy.”

The 71-foot Norway red spruce from West Virginia was lit on December 22, marking the end of the 30-day mourning period after the President’s assassination.

President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) 1963-1969

The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday decor during her White House years.

President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Yuki, the White House dog

President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Yuki, the White House dog

After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination a month of mourning was declared. But on the evening of Dec. 22, Johnson lit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House, and the next morning the black mourning crepe that had been draped over White House doorways and chandeliers was replaced with holly, wreaths and mistletoe. Lady Bird Johnson later wrote, “I walked the well-lit hall for the first time with the sense that life was going to go on, that we as a country were going to begin again.”

Her 1965 and 1966 Blue Room Christmas trees were decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood roses from Hawaii. A paper mache angel graced the tops of the trees. For the 1967 holiday season, Mrs. Johnson added silver balls, silver stars and round mirrors to the previous years’ ornaments.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb in front of White House Christmas tree with infant daughter.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb in front of White House Christmas tree with infant daughter.

Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson spent four of their six presidential Christmases in Texas rather than Washington. Each year it seemed President Johnson faced a different crisis, so he liked to return home to his beloved ranch on the banks of the Pedernalas for Christmas to relax and renew his spirit. However, the holiday season in Washington begins long before December 25th and the Johnsons loved to entertain, so they didn’t miss out on Christmas in the White House. Whenever dignitaries were lucky enough to visit the the President and First Lady during the holidays, they were entertained with traditional elegance using a Christmas theme, including a decorated tree such as this one, patterned after a gingerbread theme once used by Lady Bird Johnson.

When President Johnson was in office the theme for that year was An American Past.

When President Johnson was in office the theme for that year was An American Past.

The Christmas of 1967 was special for the Johnsons because their daughter, Lynda, was married to Charles Robb in the White House on December 9th with 650 guests in attendance. The celebrating continued during Christmas week and the First Lady decided, over her husband’s objections, that they would spend that Christmas in Washington, the first time in seven years.

The Johnson’s final Christmas in the White House in 1968 was a time of reflection for them and the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. On December 23rd, President Johnson sent Christmas greetings to the American troops in Southeast Asia, which included his two sons-in-law. In Drew Pearson’s syndicated column, he noted that Christmas at the White House for the Johnson’s was “not as gay this year as last.”

1967 Presidential Christmas cards from the Johnsons depicting the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room

1967 Presidential Christmas cards from the Johnsons depicting the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room

Six Christmases passed while the Johnsons lived in the White House. While the President found himself spending ever more of his energies on a war in Vietnam that would not go away, the First Lady committed herself to the beautification of America and the planting of trees. Except for their unplanned first Christmas in the Executive Mansion, all the cards and gift prints of later years were to feature trees.

These included trees planted by Presidents, trees surrounding the South Portico, trees on the South Lawn as viewed from the South Portico, and the Blue Room Christmas tree. The artist in each case was American Greetings watercolor painter Robert Laessig, with whom the Johnsons were to have a long, productive relationship. The gift prints were reproduced on textured paper 14 by 18 inches in size; to accompany each print, the First Lady enclosed a personal message penned on parchment.

On the bitter cold evening of December 16, President Johnson lit his last National Community Christmas Tree. At the touch of a button, the 74-foot Engelmann spruce from Utah lit up with 4,000 blue and green lights. During his last two years as President, Johnson’s credibility began to slip. With the Vietnam War still going strong and with no end in sight, Americans began to question their President’s motives. And with the Civil Rights movement on the rise, urban riots broke out across the nation. In his final Christmas greeting to the American people, Johnson prayed for peace in Southeast Asia and reconciliation on domestic soil. In his departing words he said, “We cannot say that we have triumphed in this endeavor. But we have begun at long last.”

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia 1969-1974

After serving as Eisenhower’s veep and then losing the election of 1960 to John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon retreated from executive-level politics until 1967, when he decided to again run for President in the election of 1968. Appealing to the “Silent Majority” of socially conservative Americans as well as promising peace in Southeast Asia, Nixon beat out Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace to become the 37th President of the United States.

For President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon’s first Christmas in the White House in 1969, they began a tradition of gifting Presidential portraits to their staff members. That year they gave reproductions of Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington (the same portrait that Eisenhower used for inspiration to paint his 1954 Christmas gift print).

In 1969 Mrs. Nixon had the White House tree decorated in beautiful velvet and satin balls that represented the 50 States.

In 1969 Mrs. Nixon had the White House tree decorated in beautiful velvet and satin balls that represented the 50 States.

The 1969 “American Flower Tree” stood in the North Entrance. For its decoration, First Lady Patricia Nixon arranged for disabled workers in Florida to make velvet and satin balls featuring each state’s flower. For the 1970 Blue Room tree, she added 53 “Monroe” fans made by disabled workers in New York. Gold foil angels joined the trimmings in 1971. Mrs. Nixon took her 1972 Christmas theme from two White House collection paintings by Severin Roesen: Still Life with Fruit and Nature’s Bounty. The tree featured 3,000 pastel satin finish balls, the state flower balls and 150 gold Federal stars. A 1973 “gold” theme tree honored James Monroe, who bought gilded tableware for the White House in 1817. Gold bead strings and balls enhanced its natural beauty.

1971 White House Christmas Cards from the Nixons featuring a painting done by N.C. Wyeth in 1930

1971 White House Christmas Cards from the Nixons featuring a painting done by N.C. Wyeth in 1930

Christmas celebrations during the following years were not much better. In 1969, the train bringing the National Tree from South Dakota to Washington was twice derailed and a surprise storm on December 6th that year blew the tree down! In 1972, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols. The nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed. And in 1973, an air of gloom hung over the White House as the Watergate investigation continued.

At Christmas, the First Lady delighted in opening the White House for candlelight tours as well as nationally televised specials. It gave her and the President great pleasure to share with the nation at Christmas the rare and authentic acquisitions for the State Rooms. An admirer of his great predecessors, the President surprised no one when it came to holiday cards and gift prints. Each card was a rendition of the White House, which, for the last three Christmases, was an historical view by a well-known artist. Each gift print, invariably, was the portrait of a great President rendered by a celebrated portrait painter.

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat with Frosty

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat with Frosty

In celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Community Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony, President Nixon lit the tree on December 14 with the help of a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout. For the first time since 1954, a live tree was planted on the Ellipse. The 42-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania was donated by the National Arborist Association. With a major energy crisis taking place, the White House reduced the energy consumption of lighting the tree by almost 82%. Instead of using thousands of lights, the tree was decorated primarily with garlands and balls.

In his Christmas greeting to the American people, President Nixon talked about the impending energy crisis. He said, “This year we will drive a little slower. This year the thermostats will be a little lower. This year every American perhaps will sacrifice a little, but no one will suffer.” Unfortunately for Nixon, he wouldn’t stay President for much longer to make sure no one would suffer. Due to the Watergate scandal, which resulted in Nixon’s loss of political support and near certainty of impeachment, he resigned on the evening of August 8, 1974.

President Richard Nixon Tapes: “Merry Christmas, Operator

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President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty 1974-1977

Immediately following Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. He nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill his vacated position as Vice President, and Rockefeller was officially confirmed several months later. Perhaps one of Ford’s most controversial decisions – one that he made only weeks after taking the Presidential Oath of Office – was pardoning Nixon for all the crimes he may have committed during his presidency. Nixon’s pardon might have been the best Christmas present he ever received.

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford looks over decorations and presents

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford looks over decorations and presents

Handmade crafts set the theme for First Lady Betty Ford’s 1974 Blue Room tree. Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree. She kept this quaint feel in 1975 for her “old-fashioned children’s Christmas” theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes, acorns, dried fruits, pine cones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments. In 1976, Mrs. Ford expressed the “love that is the spirit of Christmas” by trimming a Blue Room tree in a variety of entirely natural ornaments made by members of the Garden Club of America.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty's 1974 Blue Room tree.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty's 1974 Blue Room tree.

In the 1970’s, the old-fashioned Christmas–turkey dinner, pumpkin pie, popcorn strings, and patchwork ornaments–was at odds with changes taking place in America. The topic of Christmas at the White House didn’t even get discussed until November because the Fords didn’t take office until late summer. Both the Kennedys and the Johnsons took their Christmas ornaments with them when they left the White House and the Nixon ornaments were not Mrs. Ford’s style. She preferred homemade or sentimental ornaments. Mrs. Ford’s idea for a Christmas tree was that it should be warm and personal. In 1974, she asked specific groups to make the tree ornaments using a patchwork theme. The homemade patchwork tree emphasized thrift and simplicity in this time of recession. Mrs. Ford encouraged Americans everywhere to make their ornaments in order to save money. She even offered a White House pamphlet on how to make patchwork Christmas tree ornaments.

Gerald and Betty Ford brought to the Executive Mansion an informality that reflected their unique style and personality. The ambiance of the Ford White House was warm and folksy, simple and low-key. Mrs. Ford described it as kind of “down-home-like.” Especially at Christmas, the First Lady was able to define her independence and leave the distinctive mark of an old-fashioned Christmas on the White House, a tradition the Ford family had always enjoyed.

Final White House Christmas cards sent by President and Mrs. Ford in 1976

Final White House Christmas cards sent by President and Mrs. Ford in 1976

The President and Mrs. Ford liked the works of George Henry Durrie, so it was no surprise that they selected another one of his paintings for the design of their third and final White House Christmas cards. The painting, entitled Going to Church, depicted a white New England church with a pointed steeple in a bucolic setting with parishioners making their way to the door. The Fords had Hallmark produce 25,000 Presidential Christmas cards, each card bounded with a blue foil border.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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Is Glenn Beck the Reincarnation of Cleon from Ancient Greece?

Posted by Audiegrl

Perfecting the Paranoid Style in 500 BC and 2009 by Peter Struck

Socrates

Socrates

From Buckley to Beck

by Peter Struck Back in 1996, I had a correspondence with William F. Buckley, Jr., who, like many of those on the Right at the time, had a habit of claiming ownership over the ideas and spirit of the classical past. So it wasn’t altogether surprising to see him on television aligning himself with Socrates and pressing for the triumph of absolutes over relativism. What did catch my ear was that Buckley was arguing in favor of the death penalty, and was using Socrates to make his case. I couldn’t resist writing the man about the cruel irony of holding up as a poster boy for the death penalty the Western Tradition’s most famous victim of it. Buckley responded promptly, but never really engaged the most challenging issue: that Socrates, the paragon of classical rationalism, was deeply suspicious of that other signature legacy of his countrymen, democracy. He saw it as a system of government whose weakness was precisely that it rewarded those who could most artfully whip up a bunch of hot-headed boobs with the power to kill whoever displeased them. At its worst, it was rule by mob.

It Was Cleon Who Shouted the Loudest

The 2,400-year-old temple of Ifestos, which sits in the ancient Agora of Athens, where ancient Athenian statesman Cleon placed shields captured in a victory over Sparta

The 2,400-year-old temple of Ifestos, which sits in the ancient Agora of Athens, where ancient Athenian statesman Cleon placed shields captured in a victory over Sparta

The archetype for Glenn Beck is a fifth century B.C. Athenian figure named Cleon, our first well-documented populist. Cleon represented a new class, made possible for the first time in democratic Athens. The notion that the whole people of Athens should participate in decisions collectively allowed for the rise of figures who presumed to speak for them. Cleon became wildly famous and successful not by coming from a powerful family, or by serving in regular office, but by delivering fiery speeches to thousands of Athenians in public. The Greek sources leave behind an unsparing portrait of an impulsive, histrionic bully. Aristotle tells us that “he was the first to use unseemly shouting and abusive language in the public assembly; and while it was customary to speak politely, he addressed the assembly with his cloak lifted up.” In Thucydides’ version, Cleon’s own lack of a pedigree provided him a plentiful source of resentment against those that had one, and he cast every self-aggrandizing gesture as a motivated by a love of the people over the aristocrats. He flattered his audience as being more capable of governing than the supposed experts in power. He personalized politics and under his influence those who disagreed with the state were referred to, for the first time in ancient Greece, as “haters of the people.” The comic playwright Aristophanes vividly portrayed him on stage as a man in a constant state of anger, his voice resembling the squeal of a scalded pig.

From Beck to Buckley
William F. Buckley, Jr. and Glenn Beck

William F. Buckley, Jr. and Glenn Beck

In the line from Cleon to Beck there is hardly a wiggle. Less obvious but telling is the connection between both these figures and Buckley. Driven by an unyielding sense of their own correctness, all three are experts in the trade of absolutes, always pressing toward a higher-contrast world of black and white. While it has become utterly common to see people in the public sphere assume such a posture, it does not stand to reason that they must. Among Republicans, for example, one used to see a strain based on intellectual modesty, of resistance to grand theories and attempts to explain everything. Eisenhower built a coalition around such principles that held up for decades. Obama may well be up to doing the same. In order to get on with fixing what it was possible to fix, they recognized the usefulness of an ability to live with a degree of uncertainty, a quality that Goldwater, and later George Bush and Karl Rove, vanquished from the Republican Party.

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Tea Party Protesters in Washington,DC

This Republicanism of certainty has had a good run, but it has likely reached the end of its appeal. David Brooks, whose sympathies attune with refinement to Eisenhower Republicanism, sounded its death knell in a recent column in the New York Times. If Beck’s days as the center of attention are numbered, as Brooks claims they are, it will not be because of his coarseness or his rejectionism, but because of his imperviousness to doubt. Intellectual hubris is tiresome in any case, but it is an especially odd standard to use to rally people who understand themselves as conservatives. Certainties are what one needs to upend things, and at a some point conservatives grow uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Cleon, that ancient voice of certainty, was not among the conservative lot at all, but a radical through-and-through.

While Buckley was of course right to point to Socrates as someone who endorsed the idea that there are absolutes, he missed the most important part of the story. The Greek philosopher was equally convinced that only a fool and a demagogue would claim to know them. If only Buckley were around to teach this lesson too.

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coinsFounded and edited by Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly is a New York-based journal of history that seeks to revitalize both our excitement and familiarity with the past. History, as Mark Twain supposedly said, may not repeat itself—but it does rhyme.

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Film Review: JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America

Review by TV Columnist Kevin McDonough

kennedyjackjackieOK, I groaned a little when I got the press material for “JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America“. I thought I had seen every scrap of footage related to the Kennedy assassination far too many times already.

Boy was I wrong. “JFK” presents a remarkable parade of clips of home movies, raw news footage, police dispatches and local Dallas coverage — much of it never before aired. And it does so in chronological order and entirely without narration.

The lack of voiceover gives the stream of footage incredible power. Nobody’s telling you what happened or how you’re supposed to interpret it, and this frees the viewer to re-experience a moment of local chaos, national trauma and a time when the fledgling medium of TV news was just figuring itself out.

While presented in a minute-by-minute fashion, the clips arrive weird, raw and jumbled. The documentary often seems like a video version of an archaeological dig, with the editors trying to make sense of so many broken shards of pottery.

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald

A stripper from Jack Ruby’s Carousel club appears on a talk show just hours after the arrest of the assassin’s assassin. We hear a clip from a radio broadcast of a Philharmonic orchestra as the conductor announces the president’s murder to a thunderous gasp from the audience, before leading the musicians in an impromptu performance of a Beethoven funeral march. A friend of Jack Ruby suggests that he saw Lee Harvey Oswald in his nightclub just a week before the assassination. Local correspondents insist on calling the alleged shooter Lee Harold Oswald.

We also learn from a number of clips that, contrary to TV legend, Walter Cronkite did not break the news of the president’s death, but that it dribbled out from various sources, with the tentative nature of a horrible rumor nobody wanted to believe.

Again, take this from a jaded Kennedy buff, confirmed history nut and professional media junkie: “JFK” is hypnotic, powerful, spellbinding stuff.”

Two-Part DVD Set

Two-Part DVD Set

Just hours before his death, John F. Kennedy appeared before a crowd in Fort Worth, Texas in what would be his final speech, delivering one last homage to American freedom.

This poignant moment is part of a vast historical record of sights and sounds captured on camera during those catastrophic days. The Zapruder film is only the beginning; much more archival material of the events surrounding the assassination exists.

Abraham Zapruder

Abraham Zapruder

This two-part special uses unique, rarely seen and heard footage to document the Kennedy assassination and the nearly 50 years of speculation and controversy that changed America. This material comes from a range of sources including eyewitness home movies, Dallas police dispatch radio recordings, and raw news footage. Part 1 is a shocking, unflinching look at the assassination of the President and the days that followed.

The second part of the special documenting the JFK assassination examines the aftermath, and the enduring controversies that emerged as succeeding generations of Americans struggled to comprehend the sudden murder of an unforgettable leader.

There are some clips available on youtube to view scenes from Part One.

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