December 21, 2007
"Leave Christmas ALONE!!!!"
By Mary Lyon
Guess what's been roaring through my head since "Campaign Christmas" really got rolling? It would, I suppose, be prompted by the Romney-Huckabee Religion-palooza that's dominated much of December. It's one of everybody's favorite video clips of the year, a one-man surge aimed at winning some breathing room for human trainwreck Britney Spears - Chris Crocker's "Leave Britney ALONE!"
Where's Chris Crocker when we need him to scream in defense of keeping politicians' mitts off Christmas?
It started with Mitt Romney's mitts, during his big "Faith in America" manifesto, in which his faith of choice, Mormonism, was not extensively addressed. But then the Reverend Huckabee stepped up, riding on the coattails of his own recent debate "charm offensive" - and issued a campaign commercial wrapped in Christmas paper. Pundits recognized fairly quickly the subliminal image-message visible over his shoulder. Seemingly an innocuous well-lit bookshelf, it was clearly a cross. Okay if you're voting for parson or patriarch, but this is president we're talking about.
First, Mitt. What do you think this is? Salt Lake City on steroids? Who do you think you are? Jack Kennedy? A bunch of us were inspired by this episode to channel the late, great Lloyd Bentsen in his memorable debate with Bush 1's running mate, the hapless, brainless, clueless Dan Quayle. It was memorable for one exquisite retort sparked by Quayle's audacity to compare himself to JFK. Bentsen looked over at him and retorted "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. And you're no Jack Kennedy." You aren't, either, Reverend Former Governor Romney. Give it up NOW.
I would ask Candidate Romney if he wouldn't mind throwing open the doors of any Mormon tabernacle so those of us who want to make truly informed decisions next November can see inside. As far back as my high school comparative religion class, I can remember feeling an instinctive resentment upon being told by a couple of young visiting Mormon missionaries that we non-Mormons were not allowed to tour their church. Why not? What - are we unclean or something? We Catholics let you in just about anywhere except the parish priest's bathroom. You can come into any Catholic church and plunk yourself down in the front row if you want to. Not here, it seems. Romney's fellows do want our time and our donations and our acceptance but they offer little in exchange except secrecy and exclusivity. And they claim, as Romney would reassure us, to worship the same Jesus Christ that everyone else across all Christendom does. And yet the vast majority of us who share that overriding view would still be locked out. Oh yeah, I forgot. We get a consolation prize: a "Visitor's Center." Enough with the ultra-exclusive secret-society stuff that most of us aren't allowed into. We've already head more than enough of that for the last seven years with Bushco, Mitt. Especially when it's been paid for with all of OUR taxpayer dollars, and that includes the tax dollars of all the millions of non-believers here, too.
As long as we're considering the Mormon credo, I would like to hear Romney explain away how his religion mandates that all Mormons obey the dictates of their church patriarch, OR ELSE. Regardless what they themselves do for a living and how many shots they call, and whether they're public servants paid via tax money. He cleared the air about very, very little of his chosen religion. We still don't know a whole lot about Mormonism. Maybe that's the point. And can we discuss that "I'm just SAYING..." remark by a pseudo-innocent Mike Huckabee, who wondered aloud whether it's really true that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers. How 'bout it, Mitt (she said, already knowing the rather eyebrow-raising answer to that one). Go ahead. Make my day. Hint: he won't touch that one with a ten-foot bottle of hair shellack. He doesn't DARE open that Pandora's Box. You, on the other hand, can. Have some fun. Google it and see what you think.
That brings us to the Reverend Former Governor Huckabee - he of the "aw-shucks" persona - "he's SO real! So genuine! Authentic, and approachable, and so totally regular-guy. So comfortable in his own skin! (And by the way, what on earth is THAT supposed to mean when applied to extra-ambitious and ultra-coy political candidates?) Why, he's so down-home you could go have a beer with him! Never mind what kind of world-class catastrophe came down upon all our heads the last time millions of Americans fell for an aw-shucks regular-guy (and alcoholic) with whom one could easily see oneself having a beer. To Huckabee goes the Nobel Prize for obnoxious Christmas commercials. If I wanted to be preached to, I'd go back to Mass on a regular basis. If I wanted to vote for Pope, provided they ever let us unranked, commoner Catholics do so, I would. This is an election for President of the United States. Last time I looked, that was a secular position. We're not talking First Minister here. They don't even call our second-tier administration officials "ministers" in the first place. They're Cabinet Secretaries and agency directors. There's no Minister of Anything. You don't get to be the titular head of the church unless you're the crowned sovereign of England. That doesn't apply in this country.
Granted, the religious extremists of America have been trying to blur the line between church and state for as long as they've been able to pick up a TV remote and click to the "700 Club." There's a reason we were set up with that separation. Those who thought it up back then, and those before them who came over here to find freedom, did so to avoid what they crossed the Atlantic to escape: religious dictates that didn't fit them. Now, a few of their decendents, lo these many centuries later, want to impose state-sponsored religion on the rest of the population - whether they deny it or not. That's where I get off.
When I saw that Mike Huckabee Christmas commercial, and immediately picked up on the subliminal cross behind his left shoulder, I knew instantly what the real message was. This life-long Catholic found it tremendously off-putting. That's MY Christmas you're trying to put your grubby paws all over, dude! You manipulate it and exploit it with your own family. Or open your own church somewhere in Arkansas and do it there, 24/7. Make it your-style Christmas all year round for all I care. Just don't try to force-feed it to me! I don't smoke your brand. And I'm not about to start.
We've already seen from the sly, slicky-boy Hillary Clinton aide, Mark Penn, how you can insinuate the message you really want to telegraph, even while purportedly not doing so. "I think it's just TERRIBLE that somebody might want to make an issue of Obama's teenage cocaine use, AND WE SHOULDN'T EVEN BE TALKING ABOUT IT!!!" (Even though he just did.) And it can go on seemingly forever. "I think those false accusations about so-and-so beating his wife and hanging their puppies by the necks from the front porch rafters constitute a personal family crisis, and should NOT be talked about in public, AT ALL!" (Even though you brought it up in public anyway.) "That abortion mill in Candidate-A's great-aunt's back yard is JUST A RUMOR and shouldn't even be brought up in this campaign!" (Even though you just did it.) "Don't you think it's unfair to spread stories about whether fill-in-the-blank-here's got another three wives on the side?" (Even though you just spread the story that much farther.) This was infamously done back in 2000 to John McCain, not even in the form of a statement but rather of a mere question - "would you vote for John McCain IF YOU KNEW THAT he'd fathered a black child out of wedlock?" Hmmmmm??? The only thing needed was to plant the seed, even in a backhanded way. Even if there was no truth to it. Even if it was 25, 30, or 40 years in the past. Even if it had already been fully explored and found to be flatly unfounded. You can still plant the seed. We're growing more sophisticated, Mr. Huckabee. Many of us read you far more clearly than you realize.
If I understand my own religious studies throughout 14 years of Catholic school, what I got out of it was that the Lord invited people in. No one was forced at knife- or gun-point. HE was there and very available, very ready, very open, very accepting. Very tolerant and loving. NOT punishing or exclusionary. There was something for everybody, whenever he or she chose to accept the invitation. It seems to me that when man stepped in and began to interpret, that's when we started getting into trouble, messing with the message, clouding the issue, and perverting the original meaning of The Word.
So Mike Huckabee has led the charge, among the GOP, to co-opt Christmas for this campaign. He's put the star on top of the tree that Bill O'Reilly and other fanatic "War on Christmas" crusaders already thoughtfully trimmed and set in the middle of the town square. I have news for them all: there is NO "War on Christmas." Everybody "gets it" to some extent or other, and partakes of this special time of year. Here, too, there's something for everyone. Even non-Christians can and do resonate to the spirit of Christmas that was born long before Christ was, during winter festivals surrounding the tribal bonfire - when people gathered close together to keep each other warm, comforted, and to share the common bounty from the recent hunt or harvest, while their assembled numbers discouraged encroaching threats from wild beasts and/or enemy tribes. We huddled together against the chill, the dark, the danger, and the unknown, and found a reason to appreciate that we could know such safety, warmth, and good company. The deeper ones among us gave thanks to whatever Greater Being beyond our sight and hearing was presumed to preside over it all. And when nothing more could grow that year, we celebrated what we HAD been fortunate enough to produce and gather when the weather was kinder. Eventually, Christmas came out of that, with the added blessing of significance and symbolism from specific faiths. Even those whose beliefs don't include history's most prominent Birthday Boy still recognize this time, yes - this HOLIDAY season - as something special to be shared, something loving, reaffirming, and renewing, and yes - even sacred.
The politicians cheapen it all. Especially those who would wrap themselves in some holier-than-thou mantle and declare themselves the National Arbiters of all things of Faith in order to gain more power, influence, and the wealth that comes with it.
Dear Reverend Former Governor Romney, and Reverend Former Governor Huckabee, kindly take your sanctimonious pontifications and stuff them in your holiday turkeys. Jam it down into somebody else's stocking - not mine. Do not issue edicts to me like some set of Moses tablets from the mountaintop about how I'm supposed to feel about this sweetest and most precious of holidays. You completely pervert the Christmas spirit by trampling all over it with muddy track shoes, in much the same arrogant, hamhanded way Dubya himself has trampled all over the Constitution. I suspect at this time, the Holy Infant would like people to find their own way to Him of their own free will - with or without directions. Hey, the Three Wise Men managed somehow, and they didn't have a Thomas Brothers map or Tom Tom GSP device or even three navigator-wives assisting from atop the next camel. Free will. Try it sometime. God made us ALL "the Deciders."
As for me, I'll be sitting at the kiddie table with Chris Crocker, during this Holiday season, mewling with merry melodrama to "LEAVE CHRISTMAS
The Romneys and Huckabees and O'Reillys, and all the rest of 'em who want to hijack this holiday and demand some pre-determined conformity in the way it's observed might want to check out Vatican City - where a religious leader actually is a de facto king. And if they want that to be the dictate throughout all of society, well, I suppose there's always Tehran.