Some folks are born, made to wave the flag
Ooo, they’re red, white and blueprints
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Ooo, they point the cannon at you, Lord
It ain’t me. It ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no
“Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
John Fogerty wrote those lyrics in 1969, a year when our involvement with the war in Vietnam began to slowly wind down. Yet nearly 12,000 Americans still died that year in a war fought for old men’s pride.
Now, all this time later, our politics have been infected again by the thoughtless tough talk of candidates who look at the mess, the mistake, of the Middle East and see only their own name and future on a ballot in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Their thinking: The prize goes to the man who can convince voters he will kill the enemy faster than anyone else and in greater numbers, too. Pile up the body count!
Of course, the heaviest load of a larger war will not be carried by any senator’s son. No, that task will fall, as always, to the ordinary among us, to men and women who are not heading to an Ivy League college, business school, Wall Street, or Silicon Valley.
But the candidates, the Republican candidates for president, aren’t taking the field armed with logic or common sense. They are relying on a singular hope: that a majority of people in this country are so frightened by Paris, San Bernardino, and ISIS that they will fail to recognize how ludicrous these politicians are. Dangerous, too.
Fill the desert with American uniforms. Stop any and all Muslims from even thinking about coming to America. Build walls around the country. Carpet-bomb Syria. Deport 11,000,000 people here without citizenship papers. We are witnessing a campaign that has become a cartoon.
Thankfully, it’s Christmas Week, and the fires of their ambition will be forced to a low simmer while the rest of us pause for a breath. For normal people, this is a week to reflect on hope and mercy and memory.
The hope is that the coming year will bring health and peace, and a larger sense of economic justice. And that the world will not forget or ignore the idea that allotting mercy is free; it doesn’t cost a dime to dispense mercy to the poor, the homeless, the refugee, those from broken homes, those with broken hearts, the widower, the elderly alone, those who have suffered a loss and perhaps limp through each day only by carrying the memory of someone they loved who is gone forever.
This Thursday is Christmas Eve, and I can guarantee you that in a lot of homes a mother will sit and pray and dream that the child she lost to war, to an accident or an illness, might suddenly, magically, appear. All the years will vanish and that lost child will be bright in the eyes of her memory, thrilled by the prospect of Christmas morning.
And for a few brief hours, news about polls and politics will diminish as the pace slows and we allow ourselves to use a single moment in time as an escape from the dreary reality of lowest-denominator politics. That’s the gift given us by the calendar.