Yesterday evening, we aired the final episode of my radio serialization of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - although, if you've yet to hear it, you can start from scratch with Part One and still wrap it up by Christmas morning. There have been many parodies of Dickens' tale over the last century and a half - and, in fact, I did one myself, fifteen years ago for my column in The Chicago Sun-Times and other papers. The inspiration was, of all things, Trent Lott.
Senator Lott had had a good election in November 2002. The Republicans had re-captured the Senate, and Lott was thus about to resume his old job of Senate Majority Leader. Then he went to Strom Thurmond's hundredth birthday party on December 5th. Strom was about to retire as the oldest senator in the history of the joint, and Washington's finest had gathered to give him a grand send-off. Alas, Senator Lott got a bit carried away, and effused:
When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either.
Thurmond ran for president in 1948, on the "Dixiecrat" ticket - a faction of Southern Democrats that split from the national party over federal threats to end racial segregation. By "we", Lott meant the constituents of his home state of Mississippi. As to his suggestion that, if Strom had won, "we wouldn't have had all these problems", well, it's the guy's hundredth birthday and everyone's just buttering up the old boy. But, to those in the media and the nascent blogosphere waiting to pounce, it sort of sounded as if Lott was dragging all the Democrats' segregationist baggage over to the GOP side of the aisle and putting it up on Strom's pedestal. Lott was soon in full damage-control mode and embarked on a 24/7 panderthon including improbable appearances on Black Entertainment Television.
But to no avail: A mere six weeks after re-taking the Senate, Lott quickly became the first outgoing incoming Senate Majority Leader in Congressional history. This heartrending vignette on Trent's plight by acclaimed author Charles Dickens came in the midst of his campaign to save his job and appeared in the Sun-Times a decade and a half ago.
PS I don't claim to be a great seer but you'll note the casual aside about Lincoln Chafee (then a very squishy Republican senator) "jumping ship". Eleven years later - 2013 - he joined the Democrats, and two years later he was running against Hillary and Bernie for the party nomination on a platform to introduce the metric system:
"You, lad!" cried old Ebenezer Scrood, throwing open the window of his Senate office and hailing a cheery-looking black shoeshine boy in the street below. "What's today, my fine fellow? Is it Dr King Day yet?"
"Er, no," replied the boy, puzzled by the Majority Leader's strange demeanor. "It's..."
"Too bad. An excellent man, Don King. Still, Merry Kwanzaa to you, my boy!"
"But you don't celebrate Kwanzaa! You're dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know."
"Bah, humbug!" said Senator Scrood, tossing onto the cobbles a shilling left over after tipping Strom's lap dancers. "Call me a hansom cab. I need to go to Black Entertainment Television and be seen interacting comfortably with colored people of color. Then I'm due at the auditions for 'Soul Train'. Oh, and here's half-a-crown. You know that big, plump turkey hanging in the poulterer's?"
"You want me to take it round to old Bob Cratchit's?"
"Bob Cratchit?" scoffed Scrood. "To hell with him!"
"But he has been your faithful hairdresser for these past 28 years! He has lavished untold gallons of extra-strength gel on you!"
"Pish, boy. I'm looking for something a little different now. Do you cut hair? I rather fancy some of those "nappy braids", if I've got the name right. That'll give Maxine Waters a turn at our next photo-op. Join our team, laddie. Minimum wage plus Federal health benefits. I feel gloriously affirmative!"
"But you've never supported affirmative action!"
"I don't support it, I live it!" cried Scrood. "Don't end it, don't mend it, extend it – across the board! I'm cracking open the Appropriations safe this bright, piping Kwanzaa morn." He flipped another sixpence through the air. "And don't forget to take that turkey round to Reverend Jackson's. The poor man's been starving for white meat. Good thing I came along."
When the boy had gone, Senator Scrood recalled the horrors of the night before. He had been sitting by the fire when there had come a terrifying noise from below. The cellar-door flew open, and he was confronted by a hideous vision, pallid and wraithlike save for the appalling orange tassles laid across its head. Scrood felt the chill of the spectre's death-cold eyes.
"Oh, my God!" he shrieked. "A ghost! The ghost of Jefferson Davis!"
"Ebenezer," croaked the dreadful apparition. "It's me, Strom. Got a little frisky with that Liddy Dole and she locked me in the cellar."
"For Pete's sake, man. You gave me the fright of my life. Party's over, Strom. Go on home. You've got me in enough trouble. I need to get back to Senate business."
"Business!" wailed Strom, his vile ejaculation rending the silence of the night. "Oh, captive, bound and double-ironed by business, Ebenezer! Mankind is our business. I, too, had to learn that charity, mercy, and benevolence are all our business."
"I don't get you."
"The thin gruel of your apologies to date is too miserly. Heed the Three Spirits, Ebenezer!" And with that Strom tottered off after a comely intern, and a strange Doleful figure glided through the wall, his arm clutching a pen. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," he intoned. "List my warning, or your poll will ne'er revive."
"Is that one of your Viagra gags?"
But the walls of the Senate seemed to fall away and they were on a country road surrounded by fields. And there was his ol' pappy, bent and stooped, picking cotton. And his mammy. And young Ebenezer himself, gamboling barefoot in the hardscrabble dust around their rude shack. Why, it brought a tear to the eye! He'd clean forgotten they were sharecroppers. "You were poor and humble," murmured Doleful Bob. "You were far from wealth and power and lacquered hair. But be honest, weren't you a lot happier?"
"Gimme a break," said Scrood. "But it would make a helluva story for my next press conference. The sob-sisters'll eat it up."
"That's the spirit," said the Spirit. "You can't go wrong with this small town shtick. Remember that Mastercard ad I did back at my old diner in Kansas?"
"There's no chance my pappy was Negro, I suppose?" said Scrood. "This dream's kinda blurry."
"No color in this flashback," said Doleful Bob. "The good old days, remember?"
And with that the Ghost of Christmas Past vanished and in his stead appeared a jolly, bumbling fellow bearing a horn of plenty filled with Vermont specialty mail-order products. Why, it looked like Principled Jim Jeffords, his fellow Singing Senator! "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present!" said the Spirit, and in a twinkling the scene had dissolved to the Democratic Party offices. There were Ted and Hillary, but they looked so forlorn. And then Scrood understood. Ted was carrying poor, lame Tiny Tom Daschle to his stool beside the fire to warm his spindly hands.
"Tell me, Spirit," said Scrood, "will Tiny Tom live?"
"I fear not," replied Principled Jim. "He has been much weakened by November's unexpected chill."
"No, no, kind Spirit! Tell me Tiny Tom will be spared!"
"There is but one hope," said Principled Jim. "That you let him screw you over again, just like he did over the division of the Senate committees two years ago, and all the other times. Maybe that will be enough to revive Tiny Tom until Lincoln Chafee jumps ship, and after that who knows what miracle might come along?"
But already the Ghost of Christmas Present was fading, his place taken by a lurid purple phantom with glossy locks reaching to the very heavens. Why, it was Reverend Al Sharpton! "I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come," he droned, and drew him through the streets to the Republican Party cemetery, where in a far corner a priest stood praying at a new grave.
"Oh, no!" cried Scrood. "Don't tell me ol' Strom finally kicked off. But where are all the mourners? Where's Miss South Carolina 1908 and the other ex-wives? Why's no-one here?"
The priest pulled away and, with a shock, the Senator saw the tombstone: "Ebenezer Scrood. Incoming Majority Leader November 2002-December 2002. Rest In Pieces."
"The white guys don't like you, either," said the Spirit. "Face it, we're your best shot. All you gotta do is start singing. 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T.' You can do the 'Sock it to me's'."
"But you're already socking it to me," said Scrood.
His memories of that dreadful night were interrupted by a shout from the street. "Senator Scrood!" He looked down. Why, it was the little shoeshine boy. "I took the turkey round to Reverend Jackson," he shouted, "and the Reverend said it was a start but you need to do more. The Congressional Black Caucus, Black Entertainment Television, the Black Hairdressers' Coalition, and the National Association for the Advancement of Black Poulterers are not yet convinced you're sincere in your disavowal of a society divided by race."
"For cryin' out loud," said Scrood. "Okay, what about this for a beloved family favorite? I'm afraid there's no denyin' I'm jest a dandy lion..."
There was the one with no heart, the one with no brain, the one with no nerve. Now which one was he? Ah, the hell with it, he could play 'em all.
~from The Chicago Sun-Times, December 22nd 2002.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Mark's serialization of the original Dickensian Christmas Carol here. If you're not yet a member, there's still time to join and hear his latest crackerjack audio entertainment an episode per night and still finish in time for Christmas morning. Later this week we'll have a special bonus Christmas classic for you, which we hope you'll enjoy.
Mark will be starting the week with his Monday date on "Tucker Carlson Tonight", coast to coast across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific, with a rerun at midnight Eastern. We hope you can join him!