GOP takes on Santa


WASHINGTON -- In a controversial and partisan vote, the Republican-majority House has voted to impeach Santa Claus.

The grounds? Perjury, obstruction of justice, eavesdropping, mail fraud, operating an illegal monopoly . . . and other "high crimes and misdemeanors."

It marks the first time in modern history that a fabled holiday character has been impeached. (Of course, The Grinch Who allegedly Stole Christmas would have faced an impeachment hearing and almost-certain conviction in 1957 had he not experienced a change of heart and returned an estimated $1.2 million in gifts and personal possessions to the constituents of Whoville.)

Mr. Claus has perennially achieved astronomical approval ratings with the public, but he has also been the subject of rumors and innuendo about the way he conducts his seasonal gift-giving business -- including almost-yearly allegations that his North Pole headquarters contains "gingerbread sweatshops," as one workers' rights group once put it.

North Pole monopoly

In recent years, there also have been numerous inquiries into the near-total monopoly on business enjoyed by Mr. Claus.

"This guy makes Bill Gates look like a social worker," said Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois, who led the charge to impeach Mr. Claus.

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake." cried Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican who called for the ambassador to the North Pole to immediately return to the United States as a safety measure.

"I don't like people seeing me when I'm sleeping, and I sure as heck don't want 'em to know when I'm awake," Mr. Burton said. "Big Brother is alive and well, apparently."

The impeachment hearings were marked by stunning developments.

Political leaders filled the air with passionate rhetoric. In a press conference after the vote was held, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, who is pushing for a Jan. 6 trial date, thundered: "What did Mr. Claus know and when did he know it?"

"I'm not a lawyer, but I have questions about this whole chimney thing," said Rep. Mary Bono, a California Republican.

"I mean, I don't even have a chimney and I always find gifts under the tree. "What's that about?"

As for Mr. Claus, he issued a defiant statement vowing never to resign, but to continue the business of "manufacturing toys for good girls and boys the world over." While Congress debated his fate, Santa and his wife followed a business-as-usual routine. This included "making a list and checking it twice," according to a North Pole spokesman.

When Mr. Claus appeared briefly in public to feed his reindeer, he ignored the shouted questions of reporters -- although some observers claimed he bellowed a hearty "Ho ho ho!" in the direction of Sam Donaldson.

"Maybe it was an editorial comment," said the North Pole spokesman, who refused to elaborate.

Richard Roeper is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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