So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
— from “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
“After six o’clock we can be friends; but before six, it’s politics,” the Democrats’ Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said to the new President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Reagan, in the middle of beating the pants off the astonished and impassioned liberal Speaker, took note. The President said later that “whenever I’d run into him, whatever time it was, I’d say, ‘Look, Tip, I’m resetting my watch; it’s six o’clock.'”
I mentioned this story a year ago in writing a Christmas column that was devoted, in the spirit of the season, to saying good things about the political opposition. The column was genuine, the expressions of goodwill happily and sincerely meant, taking note that politics, important though it may be (and it surely is, especially right now), was but one slice of life. The point was simple: that however much disagreement there was in this corner with the Other Side, it was more than possible to extend the hand of friendship without compromising one’s principles. That in fact, if one believed as strongly in conservative principles as we do over here, it was actually easy to do so since there was no confusion between principle and a shared celebration of the joys of the Christmas season. One cannot exist, as I and so many of my conservative compadres do everyday, with a goodly amount of genuinely liberal friends or relatives and possibly feel otherwise. Ronald Reagan of liberal Hollywood and the late William F. Buckley (who counted as a treasured friend the liberal economist, Harvard professor, and Kennedy aide John Kenneth Galbraith) excelled at this. Reagan’s recounting of his relationship with the very liberal Tip O’Neill illustrates the point. To paraphrase the abolutionist William Lloyd Garrison, we conservatives are in earnest, we will not equivocate, we will not excuse, we will not retreat a single inch and we will be heard. So how about lifting an egg nog?
For this sentiment last year I was taken to task by a liberal Scrooge over at Mother Jones magazine. In “Bah! Humbug!” style. My column, it was said heatedly, “almost defies explanation.” Surely taking the time to wipe the flecks of foam off the computer screen, the writer fumed that I was “incredibly patronizing” and showed “no respect” for the “work, ideas or positions” of those mentioned in the piece. I was also “smug” to the point of being “almost offensive.” If I were really serious, it was advised, I would “tone down the self-satisfaction and raise the level of dialogue to where he [that would be me] thinks it should be.”
Ouch! All that for a simple Merry Christmas!
The point in extending good wishes in the spirit of the season in this space is certainly not intended to patronize or be smug. It is to take seriously the very point of the holiday itself, which all too often gets lost in a cloud of Clauses. Not to get too Biblical here, but there is that well-known admonition from Leviticus that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The verse doesn’t say that one should not respond to the impassioned Left of American and global politics with an equally impassioned, and hopefully reasoned, sharp and crystal clear response from the view of a conservative. There is no mention that one must check one’s conservative beliefs at the door if one is to be thought of as an accepted member of society in good standing, although admittedly if you spend a few minutes watching almost anything on MSNBC you would think so. There are plenty of us over here who have no trouble balancing conviction in the style of an abolitionist Garrison with friendship as lived so vividly by a Reagan or a Buckley.
So once again, (Mother Jones be damned!) I will take the occasion of the spirit of Christmas to extend good wishes to the political opposition. Particularly to those who have been the targets of criticism in this space, Americans one and all who captured some degree of attention by sharply expressing their own frequently quite opposite views in the public arena.
* President-elect Obama: Congratulations on your victory. It makes you my president. As such, we revert here to Loyal Opposition status. But as the conservative view of your presidency is shaped over the next four years, let it be said that there is a hat’s off appreciation that you believe what you believe, that you went out to the American people and got a majority of votes. You come across from this distance as sincere, a nice guy, a good husband, a great Dad. A centrist? A real liberal? A bookend to the Reagan presidency? We’ll see. But gee…you beat Hillary! Wow! On occasion over the years I have been to events that begin with a lifting of a glass in a toast “to the President of the United States.” You, sir, are now to be the subject of those toasts. Good luck, God bless you and a Merry Christmas to you and your legion of true believers.
* Vice President-elect Biden: What’s to say? After all these years I confess I think of you as a garrulous old uncle. Wrong mostly, right occasionally (as in your primary season criticisms of your new boss) and, as I know from my own time in Washington, a man with a reputation as a good man and a very, very dedicated family man. The latter is not only not a political act with you, it is, as we all know, the most important thing anyone can do in life. (Senator Beau? We’ll get back to that part of family dedication after the holidays.) Merry Christmas, sir.
* The Reverend John Thomas, President of the United Church of Christ: Interestingly it has been my criticisms of you and the leftward stance of our common national church which you lead that has wound up putting me on the Board of Directors of the UCC’s Penn Central Conference. Talk show host Michael Reagan once asked me why I bother to stay in the UCC and I replied something to the effect that we belong to the United Church of Christ, not the United Church of 21st Century American Progressivism. Calvin Coolidge was a member of this church for heaven’s sake. What I and so many others perceive as the politicization of one of America’s oldest denominations has called forth what might be called a “coalition of the dissenting.” Your commitment to liberalism is, I know, genuine. Your criticisms of President Bush and of conservatives over the years has been pointed, sharp, and, in my view, highly political. So much so that there was considerable feeling in UCC-land that the outside world needed to know in spite of your stances, in spite of the (vividly?) expressed views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity UCC and Obama-church fame, there is very much a set of opposing views within the UCC itself. (You are, I know, no fan of the website UCC Truths, but it is a wonderful place to spend time thanks to its founder, James Hutchins. Most visitors, while critics of yours, are good folks.) But there is something else people should know about you that many conservatives outside the church probably do not. You, the arch-liberal church president, are the father of a son who is or has been serving as a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard — stationed in Afghanistan. Your son — and your family — are to be saluted, and a thank you and a Merry Christmas is the least that can be said. We disagree on the issues of the day, and doubtless will continue to do so. But what we do have in common is our love for our shared church. Recently I have spent time in my role as president of my local church doing what I know our church does best — calling on elderly members struggling in nursing homes, a disabled member who just went through the loss of a leg, sharing time with a new member whose still young husband unexpectedly passed away. We also welcomed 11 new members into the congregation. I have no idea of their politics. It isn’t relevant. We hope to keep things that way and keep on growing. If you are ever in the neighborhood and feel the need to preach, feel free to stop in. I promise I’ll be quiet.
* The Reverend Chuck Currie, the UCC blogger-in-chief. Rev. Currie, a devoted Obama fan and volunteer, has not been a fan of my UCC criticisms, whether of the larger church, of Reverend Thomas, or, on occasion, of himself. He has refused any attempt at dialogue because of this, and even went so far as to effectively ban me from the site after I said the UCC was Soviet-like in its reaction to dissent. Sigh. C’est la vie. But Currie is out there in Portland, Oregon, being a pillar of the local religious left. His views, like those of Thomas, are sharp, pointed, and always aimed at what is perceived here as a cartoon view of Bush and the American Right. He is currently disturbed over the Obama selection of Rick Warren as an inaugural participant, is a relentless advocate for the homeless both in his community and at the state and national level and has become a serious blogger on religious and social issues. While there is disagreement here with his views, I believe that he is to be applauded for bringing his passion to the table. He is the clearly very proud father of twin daughters and, as with Thomas, while we will surely be disagreeing, a hearty Merry Christmas for Chuck and his family.
* Sally Quinn. Yow! Did I write that article? Political commentary is frequently based on the actions of others, and I did indeed react to Ms. Quinn’s very sharp and, I believed, clearly way-over-the-line personal criticisms of Governor Sarah Palin. There was no way Palin, by all accounts (even of Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey!) a good soul, could respond so I and many others did so. But it should be said here that Sally Quinn is well known in the Washington community for her devotion to her son, a young man who, like Sarah Palin’s Trig, is a special needs kid. Life is always interesting, and the transformation of Sally Quinn from hot young reporter on the make to devoted mother of a struggling child is certainly on the list. Merry Christmas to Ms. Quinn and her family.
Last, but certainly not least, to General Colin Powell, Chris Buckley and David Frum. As above, life is interesting. General Powell’s Obama endorsement cannot negate his service to his country as a soldier and, as I recall vividly, his service to President Reagan as deputy national security advisor and later, as the NSC advisor without the deputy title. Ditto his performance as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the Persian Gulf War. Merry Christmas, General. I think you’re wrong — but Merry Christmas. And keep working for all those kids that are America’s Promise. As for Messrs. Buckley and Frum? Well…sigh. I’m out of space to discuss. We disagree here. I’m sorry you have felt the need to leave NRO, but I look forward to your work and your books. To borrow from a book of Mr. Frum’s, I believe you are both, well, Dead Wrong. But Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, respectively.
Mother Jones not withstanding, Tiny Tim was right.
May God Bless Us One and All.