Outside View: Twas the week before Christmas

By HARLAN ULLMAN, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Dec. 18, 2013 at 12:04 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Early next Wednesday morning, hundreds of millions of children will anxiously awaken to the promise and prospect of a midnight visit by Santa Claus and, depending if one were naughty or nice, an array of holiday gifts or the proverbial lump of coal.

A larger number of young and old alike, here and abroad, however, will awaken hungry, very likely lacking shelter or a bed or hopes for a happy future.

Sadly, this is how the human condition has chronically existed even well prior to the origins of Christmas and Joseph and Mary's search for an inn in Bethlehem with a vacancy sign.

Usually, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is among the most popular novels of this time of year. That tale sees the penny-pinching and otherwise dislikable Ebenezer Scrooge's metamorphosis from humbug to hero not only rescued the impoverished Cratchit family from penury but saved the life of crippled Tiny Team in a gesture capturing the essence and spirit of the season and good will to all.

But perhaps the more appropriate Dickensian metaphor comes from "A Tale of Two Cities" describing revolutionary 18th-century France as "the best of times and the worst of times" because, for many, that observation applies too readily today.

The operative questions that should be put to both candidates for high elective office and even Ph.D. dissertations are "Why is it that so many have so much, so many have so little and will this human condition of growing disparity of wealth ever change?"

For the U.S. Republican Party (and conservatives fall into this grouping), the size and spending of government including the growth of (unnecessary and costly) super regulation imperil economic growth by imposing unmanageable debts and deficits largely but not entirely through uncontrollable social and entitlement programs in turn widening the gaps between rich and poor.

The Democratic Party (and many liberals) argues that government is essential to protecting and defending the defenseless and that the better-off Americans have a responsibility to aid the less fortunate. Hence, only powerful central government and an associated regulatory, taxation and legal system can ensure some measure of fairness occurs.

Unfortunately, as politics is now zero sum, both sides categorically reject the views of the other. Tragedy can often be defined as a conflict between two differing positions that are essentially correct.

Little doubt exists that in too many cases government spending is exceedingly wasteful, duplicative and ineffective. Entitlement spending needs drastic reform. Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act, further reforms and cost reductions are essential if spending is to be controlled.

Yet, the likelihood of satisfactory resolution of these and other radioactive political issues is as remote as Santa popping in for dinner tomorrow night with any of us.

If Christmas were truly a time for extending good will to all, perhaps government might yield to that sentiment. But, tragically, the non-theological basis for Christmas beyond the religious celebration of the birth of Christ that emphasizes good will among all will have not a scintilla of impact on governing or answering the questions posed above about growing gaps between rich and poor.

Religious or other holidays likewise won't force government to address these most vital of political questions in how we care for the less fortunate or indeed how we define the role of government. The most likely holiday besides Christmas that offers even an infinitesimal sliver of hope for considering these crucial matters is July Fourth, Independence Day. But hope isn't a strategy.

Ironically (and as this column has occasionally noted), perhaps the most telling of reasons for dramatic and even revolutionary action authorized in the Declaration of Independence empowers citizens that, "whenever government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one."

Revolutions, however, are rarely delivered in Christmas stockings hung by mantle pieces or in Santa's larger packages.

July Fourth and Dec. 25 aren't usually linked together as holidays in common. For most, Christmas is a deeply religious holiday celebrating the birth of the son of God; and for others a time for children, present giving and family celebrations. The Fourth of July commemorates the birth of the United States, in which freedom of religion was a principal force in triggering that revolution.

Yet, if the Declaration of Independence is correct and all men (and women by extension) are indeed created equal, the growing disparity of income and wealth between rich and poor is a political quandary that will require far more than future holidays such as Christmas or July Fourth to catalyze action.

That recognition could be the best Christmas gift of all.


(Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council and an unpaid volunteer for St. Nicholas.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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