We need a little Christmas

Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Haul out the holly. After this spectacle of a presidential election, we need a little Christmas.

In many ways, we have brought this on ourselves. We have asked things of government that should not have been asked, and we have expected things from the presidency we had no constitutional right to expect. And now we are in a predicament.

A Catholic priest friend of mine asked me if there is a "theological message" in this election.

"Yes, there is," I replied.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It is God coming down again, as at the Tower of Babel, when prideful Man built a monument to his own glory. God would have none of it, so he scattered humankind, even confusing him with multiple languages."

Few of us speak the same language anymore. Where is honor? Where is putting the nation's interests ahead of our own petty concerns and personal privilege? Government has become a religion to too many and the presidency is our pagan god to which we pay homage, but which is incapable of fulfilling many of the requirements we ask of the office. When our political deities fail to deliver, we throw them out and install new deities, who must also fail.

How empty are the lives of those who were preoccupied with who the next occupant of the White House would be, rather than paying more attention to what is going on in their house?

What would Calvin Coolidge have thought about the divisions that beset us? Yes, Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, whom some historians have wrongly maligned.

Not Peter Hannaford, a Washington public relations consultant, who has compiled an informative and entertaining new book titled "The Quotable Calvin Coolidge: Sensible Words For A New Century" (Ima-ges From The Past, Bennington, Vt., publisher).

Speaking to the American Legion Convention in 1925, Coolidge said, "Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat."

Contrast that noble sentiment with comments last week by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who predicted an "explosion" if he and the now hyphenated Americans he claims to represent don't get their way.

In a statement to the press following his re-election as governor of Massachusetts in 1919, Coolidge sounds deliciously antiquated (aren't antiques valuable?) when he says, "The attempt to appeal to class prejudice has failed. The men of Massachusetts are not labor men, or policemen, or union men, or poor men, or rich men, or any other class of men; they are Americans first."

In his 1929 autobiography, Coolidge might have been writing about today's barbarians at the political gates: "The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise, and they have been spoiled with abuse. With them nothing is natural; everything is artificial. A few rare souls escape these influences and maintain a vision and a judgment that are unimpaired."

Seeing the dangers of big government, which have been fulfilled in our time, Coolidge warned in a 1931 newspaper column, "The centralization of power in Washington, which nearly all members of Congress deplore in their speech and then support by their votes, steadily increases."

In another newspaper column (Dec. 25, 1930), Coolidge prescribed a remedy, which we need considerably more of, especially now: "Christmas represents love and mercy. It was ushered in by the star of hope and remains forever consecrated by the sacrifice of the cross. Christmas holds its place in the hearts of men because they know that love is the greatest thing in the world. Christmas is celebrated in its true spirit only by those who make some sacrifice for the benefit of their fellow men."

With acknowledgement to Jerry Herman, composer of the musical "Mame," that's the kind of Christmas we need -- "candles at the window, carols at the spinet. Yes, we need a little Christmas now."

Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services.

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