Peace on earth

by YES! Staff

Almost a century ago, during the fabled Christmas truce of 1914, German and British soldiers on the Western Front suspended hostilities, in some instances in defiance of their commanders’ authority, ventured between enemy lines where they sang carols together, exchanged gifts and even played friendly games of soccer.

The episode tells us something hopeful: That face to face, we recognize that each of us is inextricably bound up in the other’s humanity. It suggests that our differences stem more often than not from the blind imperatives of leadership insulated from the consequences of their decisions than personal enmities.

US Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, turned the emblematic story on its head in an interview with NPR earlier this month by shifting emphasis from the peaceful interlude to the violence that bracketed it. The topic was the Senate Democrats’ move to eliminate the filibuster as a mechanism used by the Republican minority to block presidential appointments.


“I think it’s a weekend truce, much as the Germans and the Allies had during World War I, the trench warfare there,” he told correspondent David Welna. Everywhere one turns these days, political partisanship has hardened  into mutual contempt and corrosion in Washington and Raleigh. Sometimes, it seems, we hardly have a national government. For President Obama, the year 2013 has been an almost unending series of blunders, failures and missteps. On the other side, US Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican tea party champion from Texas, has been utterly discredited by his willingness to wreck the government to achieve the narrow goal of dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

With neither the President nor the tea party able to effectively lead on the federal budget, power has deferred to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Their budget deal avoided another government shutdown next month by cutting benefits for the long-term unemployed and leaving many sequestration cuts in place, while making no changes to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid or Social Security. Not nearly as magisterial as the Christmas truce, but it’s something.

On this Christmas Day, we worry about a new war breaking out in South Sudan, and give thanks that a path to peace has been tenuously mapped in Syria, even if only by diplomatic blunder.

We can be cautiously hopeful that the Republican leadership in Raleigh will curb some of their excesses next year. NC Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) told Joe Killian of the News & Record on Sunday that he wants his party to stop tucking controversial legislation into stealth bills, shutting down debate and pretending that gerrymandering is okay.

“Some of the things we hated Democrats doing when we were in the minority — we’re doing them now,” he said. “And we shouldn’t be.”

The divisions that cleave our body politic are deep and abid- ing, but reconciliation means too much to abandon on Dec. 26.

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