After a certain age, favorite holiday memories tend to meld into tales too good to be true. This is human nature. We want to believe we’re better than the evidence suggests. This is a good habit of our species, especially at the end of this year, in which we’ve seen so much of the worst in us.
There is no such thing as perfection whenever we add memories of past holiday experiences to the combustible mix of family and friends. Add booze and a couple of sturdy grudges and Grey Gardens has nothing over the drama unfolding in front of us as we shake our heads.
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, we will yet again enshrine these get-togethers as something magical. This speaks to something good in us. Most of us want to be people who love people, so we manage the willpower to love even the people who get on our last nerve. Which at least one of them surely will; we just know it.
You will note that I am laying blame elsewhere for all that might annoy us this holiday season. I employ this nifty trick of memory so that, at least for the duration of this column, we can all feel superior and terribly misunderstood. My gift to you. Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Otherwise: Happy Solstice Week. Be sure to look out the window tomorrow morning. Already, the darkness is ending a teensy bit sooner.
This has been a rough year in our lives, even if we harbor no personal grievance because of what is churning out there all around us. Just this once, let’s not rattle off the list. Many of us will continue to stake out our own little patches of righteousness, but this is the time of year when we should at least try to acknowledge the truth of the matter: We are all in this together.
Former astronaut John Glenn, a dear friend, once described for me what it was like to hover 150 miles above the Earth and get a good look at the rest of us:
“On a map, every nation has a different color,” he said. “Well, the Earth looks much different from space. You realize our borders are so artificial. Some are political; some have developed along ethnic lines. But all those lines disappear when you’re looking down from space. And you can’t help but see all that we have in common and think about how much we foul things up by focusing on our differences rather than our sameness.”
I don’t expect us to link arms and sing to the heavens. For one thing, there’d be that unpleasant argument over which version of heaven and another over whose version of God would be listening. And that’s just among the believers.
Instead, I ask that, in the spirit of the season, we pause to consider what we still have in common with one another. It’s there, in every single person we can imagine.
I know, I know. Work through the wince. Breathe.
Three days before Christmas, I was about to start dinner, when my friend Jackie called. She and her wife, Kate, live just down the street.
“Go to the Square,” she said.
“Why?” I asked as I shut off the burner.
“I’m not telling you. Just go — and bring your camera.”
My husband and I threw on our jackets and began the short walk to the community park that greets everyone who enters our neighborhood in Cleveland.
Dozens of luminarias flickered on the ground around the gazebo. Two deer ventured forth as we walked among the lights and offered nods to the fat moon competing for attention.
I loved watching neighbors pulling in to the development after a long day at work and slowing their cars to a crawl to take in the sight of this unexpected kindness. I have no idea which neighbors made the effort to do this, but I know we need more people like them. I am grateful for the reminder that small gestures can ignite big hopes and that there are many ways to light the darkness.
To those who don’t celebrate Christmas, thank you for putting up with those of us who do. If you are struggling right now, may the holiday land gently.
Off we go, into the new year, where each of us will have the chance to do better.
By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 24, 2015
“A Twisted Moral Value System”: In Lousiana Governor Loss, David Vitter Shows Just How Far A Republican Must Sink To Be Rejected In A Red State
As most Washington Monthly readers know by now, Democrat John Bel Edwards defeated disgraced Louisiana Senator David Vitter in his bid for governor to replace failed presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. Vitter was famously the center of several scandals, especially including a prostitution debacle in which he reportedly engaged in not-so-vanilla interests.
Vitter had been trailing heavily in the polls for quite some time, and pulled out all the usual Republican dogwhistle tricks, from scaremongering over Syrian refugees to his own version of the racist Willie Horton strategy, claiming that his opponent would assist President Obama in releasing “thugs” from jail.
None of it worked. Jon Bel Edwards isn’t the sort of Democrat progressives will croon over anytime soon: he is anti-abortion, pro-gun and opposed President Obama on refugees. But he’s the first Democrat to win major elected office in the South since 2009, and his victory will mean that a quarter of a million people will get healthcare who would almost certainly have been denied it under a Vitter administration. That’s definitely a good thing.
But it would be extremely premature to declare that this result bodes well for a Democratic resurgence in the South. Democrats fared far more poorly downballot from the governor’s race, proving that the John Bel Edwards’ victory owed more to Louisiana voters’ disgust with David Vitter than to sympathy for his own agenda. The example of Matt Bevin’s recent election in Kentucky shows that at least the voters who turn out in off-year cycles in the South are more than willing to deny hundreds of thousands of people their right to healthcare and other benefits. It was David Vitter’s personal troubles that hurt him badly enough to hand a Democrat an overwhelming victory.
And that itself is yet another indictment of Republican voters. David Vitter’s prostitution scandal is weird, creepy and untoward for a U.S. Senator. But a legislator’s fidelity and sexual proclivities have very little bearing on their job as a representative of the people, which is to protect the Constitution and do a responsible job providing the greatest good for the greatest number of constituents. Scapegoating refugees and denying medical care to hundreds of thousands are objectively both far greater moral crimes against common decency than a thousand trysts with sex workers. That the latter is illegal and the former is legal is a testament to the twisted moral value system perverted by puritan Calvinist ethics. Vitter should have been ousted for his overtly destructive public morality, not his far less consequential private failures.
But that’s not how Republicans roll. In their world, causing the needless deaths of thousands is fair game. Having sex with the wrong person, on the other hand, is unforgivable.
There may be a large number of people in this world who share that value system. But that doesn’t mean that those with a well-adjusted moral compass must respect it or grant it validity.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthy, November 22, 2015
“A Compelling Statement Of Belief In Things Not Seen”: Jimmy Carter’s Image Of Faith Truest To What Faith Should Be
To want what I have, to take what I’m given with grace… for this, I pray.” — From “For My Wedding,” by Don Henley
America is a nation of faith. So it is often said.
In faith, a baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. In faith, a minister prays for the president to die. In faith, terrorists plant bombs at the finish line of a marathon. In faith, mosques are vandalized, shot at and burned. In faith, a televangelist asks his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet.
And no one is even surprised anymore.In America, what we call faith is often loud, often exclusionary, sometimes violent, and too frequently enamored of shiny, expensive things. In faith, ill-tempered people mob the shopping malls every year at Christmas to have fistfights and gunfights over hot toys and high-end electronics.
You did not hear much about faith last week when Jimmy Carter held a press conference to reveal that he has four spots of cancer on his brain. The 39th president made only a few references to it in the nearly 40 minutes he spoke, and they were all in response to reporters’ questions. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling statement of belief in things not seen. Unsentimental, poised, and lit from within by an amazing grace, Carter discussed the fight now looming ahead of him, the radiation treatments he will undergo, the need to finally cut back on his whirlwind schedule.
He smiled often. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said, in such a way that you believed him without question. And it was impossible to feel sorry for him.
Partially, that’s because we all die and if — still only an if — cancer is what takes James Earl Carter Jr. away, well, there are worse things than to go having reached 90 years of age, having been president of the United States, having been married to the love of your life for almost seven decades, having sired a large and sprawling family, and having done significant work toward the eradication of disease and the spreading of democracy in the developing world.
But here’s the other reason it was impossible to feel sorry for him. Feeling sorry would have felt like an insult, a denial of the virtues he showed and the faith he didn’t need to speak because it was just… there.
For all its loudness, all its exclusion, violence, and ubiquity, the faith that is modeled in the public square is often not particularly affecting. It is hard to imagine someone looking on it from outside and musing to herself, “I’d like to have some of that.” What Carter showed the world, though, was different. Who would not want to be able to face the unknown with such perfect equanimity?
Carter presented an image of faith we don’t see nearly as often as we should. Which is sad, because it is also the image truest to what faith is supposed to be — not a magic lamp you rub in hopes of a private jet, not a license for our worse impulses, but, rather, an act of surrender to a force greater than self, a way of being centered enough to tell whatever bleak thing comes your way, “So be it.” Even fearsome death itself: “So be it.”
The heat and hubris of human life are such that that state is difficult to conceive, much less to reach. Our lives are defined by wanting and by lack — more money, new car, new love — and by the ceaseless hustle to fill empty spaces within. Media and advertising conspire to make you feel ever incomplete. So it is hard to feel whole within yourself, at peace with what is, whatever that turns out to be.
But who, gazing upon the former president, can doubt the result is worth the effort?
In faith, terrorists kill the innocent. In faith, televangelists swindle the gullible. In faith, so many of us hate, exclude, hurt, curse, and destroy. And in faith, last week, Jimmy Carter told the world he has cancer in his brain.
And smiled as he spoke.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 26, 2015
“The Real Scandal In Denny Hastert’s Life”: Immersed In The Immoral Swamp Of Washington’s Game Of Money Politics
Washington’s establishment of politicos, lobbyists, and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.
The portly Republican, who’d been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, nondescript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high-school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America’s moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol.
“I’m shocked and saddened,” said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that “our Denny” would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. “This has really come out of nowhere,” exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.
Washington’s gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week’s revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert’s alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington’s game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — “the coach,” as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt Speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?
During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hitman, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny’s psychedelic playhouse. With Hastert himself singing “Candy Man,” the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress’ back rooms.
Remember “earmarks,” the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert’s regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.
When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting “riders” attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.
Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn’t return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That’s how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.
Good ol’ Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would’ve done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people’s public trust.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 3, 3015