Columns » Max Brantley

The war goes on

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From the looks of it, those waging war on Christmas lost again this year. Christmas was observed Sunday as scheduled.

The all-important measure of the true spirit of Christmas — cash register receipts — was disappointing, however. Sales were unimpressive, undoubtedly because Christ’s name was not invoked enough. (We don’t count oaths by fathers who mashed thumbs with hammers during Christmas Eve assembly projects.)

Don’t be fooled, however. The war goes on. Check Fox News for the latest details. Don’t, however, look to Fox for searching examinations of the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wire taps, detainee abuse and other dubious behavior by a country once thought a beacon of freedom.

Fox knows what its viewers want. They love to demolish straw men. Good always triumphs. Evildoers like the mythical Christmas warriors are put to flight.

If the straw men still manage to stand after a good pummeling, there’s always the constitutional option. Ban flag burning. Ban gay marriage. Heck, why not require all ads to say Merry Christmas year-round.

Politicians understand the formula. They always have a closet full of straw men to bat around. Child molesters are popular among Arkansas candidates this year, for example. You can’t go wrong making child molesters your top priority. Unlike nursing homes and payday lenders, they don’t have a lobby or make campaign contributions.

Lately, the courts have been getting their usual thrashing for, your choice, dictating, legislating and meddling. Invoking the evil court allows the governor and legislators to dither and whine, rather than act, in response to the state Supreme Court’s finding that the state’s effort on public schools remains unconstitutional.

What does the court know anyway? It is only a legal technicality that the legislature ignored its own laws. It is of no consequence that the Arkansas Constitution places specific emphasis on schools, while never mentioning interstate highways, college buildings or potholes in Bigelow, to name three higher political priorities.

Of course a special session will be required in 2006 to respond to the court ruling. Bad timing. It is an election year. As a result, there’s likely to be a whole lot more concern about putting Christ back in Wal-Mart or about gay marriage than about issues on which public officials can and should make a difference.

They could improve schools with better paid, better trained teachers working with smaller classes in better buildings with better equipment and materials. They could provide a cleaner environment with aggressive health and pollution control agencies that serve the common good, not the financial interest of a gravel dredger, smoky restaurant or soft drink bottler.

They could serve the least of us with universal health care, tough nursing home oversight and consumer protection from sucker bets like video poker and payday lenders.

They could strengthen public confidence by swearing off pay raises in a year when they provided none for school teachers. They also could swear off payola, everything from steak dinners to corporate-funded PACs that operate in the shadows of public accountability.

We can’t speak for Jesus. The governor hasn’t shared His unlisted number with us. But what do YOU think He’s more interested in? Getting His name in more Wal-Mart ads and whomping up on gay people? Or smarter kids, cleaner water, healthier bodies and evicting the money changers from public temples?


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