Politicians' holiday cards more than a cost item

December 23, 2003|By Susan Reimer

I THOUGHT the old Christmas card basket seemed a little light this year.

Turns out our scrupulous elected officials have crossed me - and thousands of other constituents - off their mailing lists this season as they try to convince us they're being careful with public monies.

Janet S. Owens, executive in my home county of Anne Arundel, was stung by criticism for using county funds to mail cards last year. So she isn't sending any this year.

If I lived in Montgomery, Prince George's or Howard counties, I wouldn't get one, either.

Pennywise and pound-foolish, if you ask me. These small tokens of holiday affection might actually mitigate future irritation with our elected officials.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley did send out cards at taxpayers' expense - more than 22,000 of them - but none to me.

I am not sure what kept me off the list. After all, I wrote a column saying that I approved of his Irish temper and the bad language that resulted, and I might be the only person who did. I think even his mother was mad at him.

I didn't get a card from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., either, but that's no surprise. I didn't contribute to the campaign fund that paid for them.

The politicians who dumped this holiday tradition for reasons of thrift might be grandstanding. I wonder if they realized that we voters are smart enough to know that one gesture (sending the cards) is probably just as sincere as the other (saving the money.) And it's not like we were touched or pleasantly surprised to receive a card in the first place. "Baffled" might be more like it.

My friends and relatives will not be receiving Christmas cards from me this year, and it isn't because I couldn't find the right slush fund with which to pay for them.

My family members kept putting me off, and the requisite family picture was never taken.

In my house, the family picture is actually a picture of the kids, because it is their changes that holiday cards are meant to share. My husband and I have changed over the years, too, but not in ways we are eager to advertise.

But getting both children in the same photographic frame is just as difficult as getting them into the same back seat for the ride home to Pittsburgh for the holidays.

Not only are they too busy with other things, they fight like big cats whenever they are within reach of each other.

(Note to parents of young children: Sibling rivalry is apparently an open-ended stage and continues to flare at holidays, often in front of people you were hoping to impress.)

These days, you are permitted to print address labels on the computer. You can have your greeting engraved. You can mass-produce those holiday letters. You can send 22,000 cards to people you don't know.

But Christmas cards without a picture of the family? Not worth sending.

Even Ehrlich and O'Malley agreed about that. And they don't agree about anything else.

The politicians might have stayed out of the headlines if they had simply e-mailed their family picture and holiday greetings, although then they would have run the risk of them being deleted as spam.

But, according to the people at the Greeting Card Association, the Christmas card tradition is not in danger of being supplanted by this method.

More than 90 percent of the people they asked said they were planning to purchase paper greeting cards this year, and 82 percent of those folks said they would send out the same number or more cards in 2003 as they did in 2002.

"Despite the massive changes that technology has brought into our lives - both personally and in our work - people still embrace the holiday tradition of sending paper cards to friends and family, year after year," said Valerie Cooper, the Greeting Card Association's executive vice president.

The association also reported that 62 percent of people feel obligated to send someone a card if they receive one from that person, and 24 percent will take someone off their mailing list if that person fails to reciprocate.

I agree.

Next year, even if I can get my kids in front of the camera, Janet Owens, Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley are off my Christmas card list.

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