Patricia Nell Warren

American Scrooge

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | December 25, 2007 4:51 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: election fraud, real meaning of Christmas

Yesterday, as I was watching "A Christmas Carol" for the umpteen hundredth time in my life, I suddenly understood the real reason why Charles Dickens' story has been such a holiday heart-wrencher for 165 years. The book was first published in 1843, and became an instant bestseller. Since then, "Christmas Carol" has sold through countless editions -- and inspired probably more movie remakes than any other book. Indeed -- for many people the story has become as indispensable to Christmas as the Gospels themselves are to churchgoers...right down to today.

No, it's not the "God bless us every one" line that makes "A Christmas Carol" so pertinent to every era. It's not the hint that we should all write a check to our local charity at holiday time.

The real message is the author's outrage at social injustice, and his heartfelt call to action.

Dickens lived during the Industrial Revolution, and was appalled at its effects on English society -- the extreme poverty and human misery that festered side by side with extreme wealth and self-indulgence, especially in London. Nowhere was this gap more visible than at Christmas time. As a genius of storytelling, Dickens found the perfect protest -- not a tirade or a sermon, but a simple story about a miserly and uncaring old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who got a wake-up call from Life about his sacred duty to care for others.

In short, Dickens' story has stayed popular because the searing problems he portrayed have never gone away. In our hearts, we all know that the problems still fester. The Industrial Revolution is still with us. Today the world suffers through the terminal phase of its after-effects -- from global warming to millions of refugees fleeing war, famine and environmental devastation.

Here in the United States, post-revolution poverty is our fastest-growing and least-discussed problem. There are whole legions of Scrooges for the dark and hooded Spirit of Christmas Future to point its bony finger at. There are the overpaid CEOs who take home $25 million in bonuses a year, while their corporations underpay employees and try to shed pension plans. There are the Scrooge lending institutions who charge usury-level interest rates to families who use credit cards as their safety margin for rent and groceries. There are the Scrooge city governments who don't want to spend a penny on homeless people, and instead try to make the homeless disappear. I could make a long list of Scrooges, but then I'd be writing a book instead of a blog.

Most despicable of all, are the Scrooges in public office, especially the Congress-scrooges who enjoy their lifetime salaries and healthcare packages, but whose voting records -- and often their records of corruption -- show that they don't give a hell about the growing economic problems facing their low-income constituents.

As for candidates for the Presidency, I have yet to hear any of them (even the Democrats) announcing a plan to do something real about American poverty. Whoever gets elected will have to shore up the shaky U.S. economy, slow the spiraling bankruptcy and foreclosure rates among Americans, stop the relentless outsourcing of U.S. jobs, and fix our broken healthcare and educational systems. Ending the Iraq war will not only end our unwarranted intrusion into a country where we're not wanted --it will also free up billions of dollars that we need for caring enough about our own country.

In the movie version I saw yesterday, the Spirit of Christmas Present pointedly reminds the 1834 British Scrooge about his heartless remark that some of the poor should conveniently die, to lower the "surplus population." The Spirit gets right in Scrooge's face and tells him that his miserly, uncaring life is worth less in the balance than the life of a poor child like Tiny Tim. Our American Scrooges, our home-grown high-and-mighty star-spangled Scrooges, need to hear the same message loud and clear.

Dickens doesn't bear down much on the "Christian" side of Christmas. His real message is that all peoples everywhere in the world, no matter what religion or spiritual way they may follow, have a sacred duty to care for one another. Once hunger and joblessness is being truly fought, then other social-justice issues can also be fought -- the duty to care for women, for youth, for racial and ethnic minorities, for the elderly and disabled, for LGBT people.

In the story, Scrooge's hard heart is finally cracked open by the recognition that he bears a huge personal responsibility to his society. But will the hard hearts of American Scrooges ever open? Will we ever get some real statespeople in the White House and Congress who care enough? Who will give them that big wake-up call? Maybe the American voters will do it, next November. Maybe millions of voters will play that Future Spirit role and point the bony finger at miserable, uncaring, greedy politicians who deserve to get voted out of office.

If the message of that 1834 English story is really and truly heeded, it could transform the America of 2008.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

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If the message of that 1834 English story is really and truly heeded, it could transform the America of 2008.

Pshaw. Most Americans still can't see the correlation between the Bush administration and 1984. Of course, the majority probably haven't read the book. :(

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 27, 2007 9:18 PM


Thanks so much for this exceptionally smart post. It never fails to amaze me how some members of Congress go apoplectic at the thought of a single payer health program for the U.S. calling it "socialized medicine" even as they enjoy the best possible healthcare all at tax payer expense.

But, even as the rich get richer and everybody else is shoved out of sight, I refuse to lose hope in the basic goodness of people.