Mark Twain, especially in the later years of his life, became increasingly disillusioned about American politics. Once, when he was writing about such things as political parties and political figures, he wished them all to the Devil. Being in Tucson, Arizona, during the week of the recent shooting there, listening, watching and reading the editorials, speeches and interviews with all kinds of prominent Americans, I found myself asking: whatever happened to Christmas? Whatever happened to all that peace and goodwill to men (and to women) (and to children such as Cristina Taylor Green)? Whatever happened to angels singing sweetly o’er the plain, to joy to the world, to love that came down at Christmas? Didn’t we listen for the Child who shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace? One of the starkest symbols of all that was lost from the Christmas Promise was putting the district of Congresswoman Giffords in crosshairs as a potential target. Whatever happened to Isaiah’s prophecy that in the spirit of the Lord’s Day we would beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks?
Christmas is still here of course and will likely come again. But as I watched and listened and read the deluge of animosity, diatribe and accusation from all along the political spectrum, I thought: at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863, the orator Edward Everett spoke for two hours; he spoke of conflict. Abraham Lincoln spoke for seven minutes; he spoke of reconciliation. Who remembers Edward Everett? Abraham Lincoln is immortal.
My unasked for advice to politicians, and to myself, comes from the first two words of one of Theodore Roosevelt’s most famous lines, “Speak softly……” As far as the next five words are concerned, “…..and carry a big stick,” we would do well to wish those five words to the Devil in American life.