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Christmas, Congress and the Times That Try Men's Souls

By       Message John Nichols       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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It would appear that several conservative Republican senators missed the reading from the Book of Matthew that goes: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

After learning that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, would be keeping the chamber in session in the days leading up to Christmas, with an eye toward securing passage of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), these Republican senators did not react by declaring their pride at being able to further the mission of the Prince of Peace by limiting the likelihood of nuclear war.

Instead, they grumbled that any Senate Majority Leader who messed with their Holiday shopping schedules must be a very poor Christian indeed.

"It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians," fretted Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

South Carolina Jim DeMint, the fiercest of the Senate's conservatives, was even more charged up about Reid's supposedly desecration of Christmas.

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"It's sacrilegious and disrespectful," DeMint griped. "What's going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians."

Actually, Easter tends generally to get the higher billing.

And, as just about everyone predicted, the Senate approved the START Treaty and finished one of the most productive lame-duck sessions in congressional history well before St. Nick's departure.

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But DeMint's point was clear enough: People who perform public service when they should be shopping are bad Christians. And, if anyone in America did not get it, former White House political czar Karl Rove, the living embodiment of Christian charity, shouted into the FOX News echo chamber that Reid was "the guy who tried to steal Christmas." Picking up on that theme, Fox host Megyn Kelly asked, "Is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a Grinch? Is he trying to Scrooge his colleagues with plans to keep the Senate in session until Christmas Eve and then call everyone back before New Year's?"

Alright, so that's the question.

But where, where, to turn for an answer?

How about the founders, on whom DeMint and his followers " do we call them "DeMinters" or just "DeMinted"? " tell us they rely for all insight and instruction?

What did the founders make of working during the Christmas season?

There's actually some instructive history on this point.

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It happened that one of the founders, a fellow named "George Washington," spent the first Christmas of America's independence year on the job. Washington and the Continental Army, were encamped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River after a fall that saw more defeats than victories. The weather was lousy. Rations were in short supply. Morale was low and there was talk of scrapping the whole anti-colonial endeavor and making nice with King George III.

Nearby, in Philadelphia, Tom Paine was worried about the fate of the revolution he called into being with his pamphlet, "Common Sense." Hoping to inspire his countrymen once more, Paine worked through the middle weeks of December, 1776, on a new pamphlet, "The American Crisis." He finished it around the Solstice and the first edition published on December 23rd. As they came off the presses, copies of "The American Crisis" were rushed to Washington's camp.

Washington ordered the pamphlet to be read to the troops as they gathered around their campfires on Christmas Eve, especially the part that read: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER,' and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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