Political Hay

Merry Christmas to the Opposition

In the Spirit of Christmas, something good to say about the other side.

By 12.3.07

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Something needs to be said.

Merry Christmas, Senator Clinton. And to you too Senator Obama, and Messrs. Edwards, Richardson, Dodd, Biden, Kucinich and Gravel.

Really. No sucker punch here. No hooks or double meanings or sly asides.

Why? As we come into the Christmas season, people on my side of the philosophical line will be talking about all those updates on the War on Christmas and lamenting the absence of civilized discussion, thoughtful dialogue, the lack of Christmas spirit and on and on. So I thought I'd begin the Christmas season on an upbeat note. Just step out and wish the presidential candidates and all with whom I disagree politically, liberals one and all, a genuinely heartfelt Merry Christmas. Live the Spirit as opposed to just talking a good game.

This means I will talk here about what I like about each of the candidates. Obviously, I don't agree with their party or their individual platforms (more about that later). But as a practicing person of faith I think I should do this, to remind at least myself if not others this Christmas that people who run for public office are in fact real people with real families and friends, and that while politics, as the famous Mr. Dooley said, ain't beanbag, it is nonetheless always important to realize that the other guy -- or girl -- is a human being too. I think, in short, that my faith demands this of me.

So. Here we go.

* Senator Clinton: I think you're a great Mom. Having been around politics my entire life and seen any number of political kids, your daughter seems terrific. Amidst all the stresses and strains of the life she has lived she has emerged as an obviously talented and, to the public eye, quite the well-balanced young woman. Whether you win or lose this election, there will be no accomplishment in your life greater than the way you (and yes, your husband too!) have raised Chelsea. You frequently discuss how you have fought for your issues for "thirty-five years." This sentiment, indeed all the activism it implies, is a decided mark of the generation we share -- the baby boomers. Many of us set our sights on involvement in politics when we left college. You have done just that, made a considerable mark, and there are in fact a lot of people out there who celebrate you for it.

* Senator Obama: Political courage is a good thing. You've taken on a hard task, stuck with it, taken your lumps and persisted with grace and considerable intellect. You might just win Iowa, too, and who knows what else beyond that. Surely it's tough to do all this with young kids. Also, when you changed your mind about running you just said so with no evasion. Good stuff.

* Senator Edwards: Keeping your head in the middle of a presidential campaign with the full knowledge of your wife's condition is doubtless a hard task. You -- and she -- are surely inspiring a lot of people in similar situations regardless of their politics to just keep their heads down and stay on their respective tasks in life. To keep on keeping on. Bravo.

* Governor Richardson: To confess on live TV with an amiable shrug and a grin as you push the whole aliens-in-Roswell business that, hey, you're the governor of the state and attracting tourism is part of the job. Now that was great! A sign that you take your job seriously but not yourself.

* Senator Biden: Your decision years ago after your first wife died not to move to Washington but to train daily back to Delaware to take care of your two young boys. Surely it kept you off the all-important (for a young Senator) Washington social circuit, something that you surely knew would work against your ability to have DC types to get to know you. I think this did in fact hurt you when you ran for president back in 1987. You never blinked. Good Irish values. Your family Christmases are doubtless merrier today, your sons much blessed, because of that decision.

* Senator Dodd: Staying true to your Dad, and making sure people remember his work as the lead prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials. Also, precisely because of the way your father was treated towards the end of his Senate career, you have resisted the constant push to get on the borking bandwagon with every single person thrown into the Senate arena for confirmation.

* Congressman Kucinich: Knowing full well that your chances are slim, you nonetheless are unhesitating in stating your cause, surely inspiring others in the political world at all levels that if they just stay true to their beliefs they can in fact win respect if not votes. And not backing away from your friend Shirley MacLaine during the UFO dustup was an illustration of character.

* Senator Gravel: Go for it! Persistence is a great character trait!

Phew!!! That didn't hurt too much!

Presidential campaigns -- for that matter any political campaign -- can be a contact sport. Once you step into the ring everything about you is up for debate. Philosophy, character, temperament, record, judgment, personality and much, much more. It would be nice to think everyone plays on the loftier side of those rules but that doesn't happen, and actually has never happened. One has only to read about the things said and written about John Adams or Thomas Jefferson in the first serious presidential campaign back in 1800 to know that this atmosphere has always been extremely turbulent. Come to think of it, even Washington didn't get through two unopposed elections criticism-free.

President Reagan used to have what he called his "six o'clock rule," by which he meant that his opponents on Capitol Hill like then-Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill could attack him all day, but after six o'clock they could sit down for a drink and be friends. He meant it too, which is one of the reasons Reagan was so well liked in Washington even by those who could not abide his politics. It was then, and remains now, a good rule even if those of you running for the Democratic nomination will not be sitting down for drinks with your conservative critics across America anytime soon (or, for that matter, presumably ever!).

To get back to the point of disagreeing over platforms and issues. There is, of course, not only nothing wrong with this, to the contrary vigorous, openly expressed disagreement is a telltale sign of freedom. Democratic societies succeed precisely because free speech acts as a built-in mechanism that lets the steam of human disagreements blow off in a productive fashion. Far too many people quiver anxiously at the first rumblings of simple political disagreement, associating it with everything from bad manners to hatred.

WHICH BRINGS TO MIND the disturbed would-be-bomber who last week walk into a Hillary Clinton headquarters in New Hampshire and took hostages. As it turned out, the man was a locally known troubled soul with a history of mental illness. But let's suppose for a moment that he was something else. Let's say he did indeed have a political grudge. Worse, let's imagine the unimaginable, that he not only nursed a political grudge against the Senator but did in fact have himself wired to explosives and proceeded to pull the switch. Then what?

What would have happened in less than a nano-second is that the blame game would have begun. The search for some prominent conservative to blame would have started before the flames were extinguished. The call to remove Rush Limbaugh from the air, or Sean Hannity, or Fox News or at the very least bring back the humorously named "Fairness Doctrine" to censor conservative radio talk show hosts would go forth.

A bit of history here. When President Kennedy was assassinated, there was an instant move to connect the event to the impending presidential candidacy of the father of the modern conservative movement, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. In fact, his lack of televised presence and any televised display of emotion in the first hours after the assassination was interpreted as some sort of proof of Goldwater's hatred for JFK. In truth, Goldwater was out of touch from the media of the day, attending his mother-in-law's funeral in Indiana. When he heard the news he was devastated -- because in fact Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater considered themselves to be friends. They had even discussed, a heartbroken Goldwater later recalled, traveling together on Air Force One if Goldwater were nominated, treating themselves and the country to a modern version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, arguing out the specifics of their respective conservative and liberal philosophies. When Goldwater heard that there were implications that his advocacy of conservatism was somehow responsible for JFK's murder, that he was supposedly taking pleasure in the death of his friend, he blew his stack.

Like clockwork, five years later, when it became clear that Senator Robert Kennedy had died of his wounds, one television station that I remember halted its programming and replaced it with hours of silence -- and the word "shame" fixed in the middle of the screen.

But shame to whom? There were implications aplenty that somehow conservatism had killed RFK. In fact he was killed by Sirhan Sirhan, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian angered by RFK's support of Israel in the Six Day War.

What needs to be said here as the Christmas season approaches and the 2008 campaign heats up is that those individuals who act out in such violent fashion towards political figures are solely responsible for their actions. Just because the Hollywood liberal establishment detested Ronald Reagan, they were not to blame because John Hinckley thought shooting Reagan was a great way to impress actress and liberal Jodie Foster. Nor were film director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, liberals both, to blame because they had respectively directed and starred in Taxi Driver, a film (also starring Foster) about one man's attempt to be somebody by killing a prominent politician.

The Travis Bickles of the world (De Niro's character), the Oswalds and Sirhans and Hinckleys are and were responsible for their own actions. So too was the guy who walked into Hillary Clinton's headquarters. Attempts to link serious political dialogue, the very normal and mainstream disagreements over policy, character, temperament, judgment, experience and personality with the individual actions of deeply disturbed perpetrators of violence are not only offensively insulting, they are the classic smear. They also damage both the credibility of the American political process and, ironically, those who make the allegations.

The real goal of these liberals is a defense of what has evolved into the liberal status quo and the personal destruction of its critics. They want conservatives silenced. This would explain the almost irrational hatred (almost?) by liberals of conservative boomers like George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh. It would similarly explain what I suspect is the experience of a lot of conservatives -- the inability to keep a discussion with a liberal calmly focused on logic or solid policy analysis. Instead I find liberals having little short of angry meltdowns, a discussion of almost anything -- Iraq, economics, the judiciary, abortion, talk radio etc. etc. etc. -- generating furious personal assaults that usually end with the liberal in question abruptly walking away or refusing to discuss the issue, period. This is hardly what liberalism once was. One cannot imagine a Hubert Humphrey, for example, the happy warrior of America's New Deal-Great Society liberalism who campaigned on the "politics of joy," behaving in such a fashion. It is behavior akin to identifying one's generation or political philosophy with a religion -- and when generational peers like a Bush, Gingrich, Limbaugh -- or you -- disagree, that disagreement is taken not for what it is but rather some sort of ultimate personal and quite heretical betrayal of the one true faith.

I MENTION ALL THIS BECAUSE it goes not just to the point of the freedom to disagree. It is breathtakingly crazy to interpret criticism of a candidate's politics -- the traditional focus on philosophy, character, temperament, record, judgment -- as "hatred." It is decidedly nuts to assume that because one disagrees sharply with a candidate that this implies wishing them some sort of personal ill. Are there people who do this? Yes. Alas, they seem to thrive these days on the hard left. Have people of this nature always been around? Yes. Does the anonymity of the Internet magnify this kind of thing? Absolutely. But it is the height of folly to believe that responsible citizens, commentators and political opponents harbor anything other than, to borrow the Christmas phrase, "goodwill to men" (in the all encompassing sense of the phrase!)

"Why, you're so nice!" is something I have said to me by astonished liberals when I make a first-time acquaintance. Somehow I suspect I'm not the only conservative to whom some variation of this is said. What were they expecting? A stereotype of course. Some sort of cross between Scrooge and, I guess, Vlad the Impaler.

As we approach the major holiday across the world that celebrates and worships the birth of Christ and everything that symbolizes, I think something like this needs to be said: Merry Christmas to all of America's liberals and to every citizen across the land who doesn't share my view of the world. And Happy Hanukah and, yes, Kwanza too if you go there. If you despise Christmas and you're way too secular for all of this, then just more power to you (although not of the elected, executive or judicial kind!). Merry Christmas (etc.) to all of the ones I write about and the ones that just appear under the generic label. To Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, to Alan Colmes and Katie Couric, and Bill Keller and the New York Times crew and...well...all those liberals in my own extended family and yours too. You get the picture.

We're set for an exciting year. This will be an important election. Lots of things will be said, the temperature in Harry Truman's famous kitchen will occasionally be very, very hot. But we are considerably fortunate to live in a country where this fundamental freedom is allowed us all. It is nothing short of a blessing. I intend to exercise that freedom and I expect my friends on the left to do the same.

I am unashamed to say that my faith as -- yes, gasp! -- a Christian, guides me to the constant realization that we are all God's children, disagreeing vigorously over our country's direction though we may be. And as a conservative? I believe that dissent and respect for disagreement is the coin of the political realm.

So unconditionally and without reservation: Merry Christmas, liberal friends.

And may God bless us one and all.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.