The War On Christmas Lights: Here’s The Real Story

Isaiah J. Poole

Here we go again. If you believe the latest emanations from the right-wing fever swamps, President Obama is coming to take away your Christmas lights.

“Federal Agency to Regulate Christmas Lights,” warns The Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation news site. Conservative outlet The Washington Free Beacon published a story, republished by The Washington Times, that said the Consumer Product Safety Commission deemed “some holiday decorations a ‘substantial product hazard.'” It went on to say, “The CPSC said the regulation is necessary because Christmas lights can be dangerous.”

Here’s the shocking truth: Nothing much is going to change.

Apparently, the conservatives pouncing on what they see as massive government overreach and an extension of the so-called “war on Christmas” never actually read the regulation itself, published in the Federal Register. However, you’re welcome to read it yourself.

The ruling would declare any Christmas lighting products plugged into a standard electrical outlet a “substantial product hazard” if it doesn’t comply with standards set by Underwriters Laboratories, an industry safety certification company. These standards have been observed voluntarily by most Christmas light manufacturers for years; the only difference is that the standards are now adopted by the agency as its own, with little change, and will become legally enforceable.

“Substantive comments from several manufacturers expressed general support for the proposed rule,” the agency said in the Federal Register, “while the consumer commenters were generally opposed to the NPR [notice of proposed rulemaking].”

That’s odd. Usually, when a federal agency is trying to make things safer and better for consumers, it’s the consumers who are most likely to favor the regulation. But it appears that behind-the-scenes right-wing ideologues had been trying to whip up grassroots fervor against these rules for months. And a few dozen people took the bait.

A blog post in October on the site, riffing off an overheated article in The Hill (“Un-deck the halls? Regs target Christmas lights”), helped stir the pot: “And just who would be subject to these proposed regulations? Why, anyone who puts up holiday lighting, of course,” the post by Brian Anderson said, incorrectly. Even though “conspicuously missing from this report is any discussion of enforcement and/or punishment,” Anderson was ready with hyperbolic hypotheticals: “Will the feds create a new agency charged with forcing compliance of the new regulations? Will homeowners have to apply (and pay) for a permit to put up Christmas lights? Judging by how militarized federal non-law enforcement agencies have become under Obama, I can imagine the CSPC carrying out no-knock warrants with armored vehicles and agents equipped with sub-machine guns.”

Sure enough, “Commenters who opposed the rule often appeared to misunderstand the nature of the rulemaking, the Commission’s authority to issue such a rule, and the effect of such a rule on industry and consumers,” the agency wrote in the Register.

Don’t worry. The CSPC Police aren’t going to come to your door this coming holiday season and demand that you take down your gaudy Christmas display. (For one thing, there’s no such police.) What will happen is that you can be a bit more secure knowing that your federal government has an additional tool to ensure that your next set of Christmas lights won’t harm you or your property because of shoddy workmanship.

The new regulation goes into effect in June. There will be no war on Christmas lights. But there will be a Christmas light war in a neighborhood near you. May the best decorator win.

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