WASHINGTON — Now here’s a thought for Christmas. At this time of year, most people across the country are thinking about Christmas traditions, while in Washington, people are contemplating Christmas transitions. No matter how much I want to deny it, Al Gore and I have a lot in common. We both profess a strong love of family, a deep and abiding faith in the Savior whose birth we celebrate — and we’re both going to spend the upcoming week between Christmas and New Year’s Day looking for work.
It turns out that Al Gore wasn’t the only one to lose his job with the election of George Bush. So did some 7,000 other executive branch employees who came in with the Clinton-Gore administration. The day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be our next president, they joined Al Gore in the job-search sector of our economy. And so did I.
Just hours after Al Gore gave his concession speech, I was told that MSNBC was canceling “Equal Time,” the cable TV show I have been co-hosting for the last two years. I can’t say that I was glad to get the “pink slip.” Live TV has all the excitement of working on a high wire without a net. And I can’t say I won’t miss it.
I enjoyed the nightly give-and-take, the exchanges with our guests, and the focus on issues that are important. When big stories break — like Kosovo, the conflict in the Middle East, the campaigns or this year’s election — there’s an intensity to the task, reminiscent of the experience of working at the White House. And those times require the same kind of teamwork that a well-trained Marine rifle company employs in the accomplishment of a mission. Producers, directors, research aides, video technicians, cameramen, audio specialists, lighting teams and makeup artists all pull together in preparation for the flashing “on air” light.
In short, it was a great experience. And now it’s over. If I’d had my way, it would have continued. But it didn’t. That’s life. Deal with it. I hope Al Gore feels the same way — but I’ve got a suspicion he doesn’t. Take for example last Tuesday’s 16- (or was it 18?) minute “meeting” with President-Elect George W. Bush at the vice president’s residence. And then there were those “off-the-record” comments from “insiders” that the meeting was “frosty,” and that the veep is “still dealing with the unfairness of it all.”
Take my advice, Al: Get over it. Stop feeding the prurient fascination of the press and the “punditocracy” in the “anguish and pain” of your experience. Sure you’re disappointed. Nobody likes to get the boot — particularly at Christmas. But if you really want to make a contribution at this time of year — show people how a real man deals with this kind of event in his life.
And that isn’t easy. Because the mavens of the media aren’t looking for inspiration — they seek out signs of anger, frustration — even depression. For whatever reason, they seem to love those kind of stories in the holiday season. I know, I’ve gotten several of those calls myself.
The day after the MSNBC cancellation notice appeared in the papers, I was asked repeatedly, “aren’t you angry?” One reporter, professing sympathy, tried to write a quote for me by saying, “can I say that you are irate?” These denizens of despondency aren’t satisfied with a simple “no” for an answer, so I tried comedy — something for which I have even less talent than television.
“You’re not going to get me to go negative,” I told one interrogator with my tongue firmly planted in the side of my cheek, “that’s Paul Begala’s job.” To another, “look, I’m submitting my name to the “Guinness Book of Records” as the only person that has been fired on national television and who has also been fired from national television.” I gave that up because the young woman on the phone then asked, “So, I can say that you’re also still mad at Ronald Reagan?”
Here’s the bottom line. It’s a principle that’s good for me and good for Al Gore. It also applies to all those folks from the incumbent executive branch who are looking for work, and the tens of thousands of others who find themselves in less than ideal circumstances this Christmas. It’s the message found in Luke’s Gospel and even Charles Dickens’ extraordinary Christmas classic: the Jesus Christ who’s birth we celebrate during this wonderful season doesn’t regard us as helpless creatures in some desperate, uneven contest. We’re supposed to be using our gifts and talents to glorify him. And if we do, even though things don’t work out quite the way we want, no door is ever closed to us without another being opened.
Al, I hope you have a Merry Christmas with your family and friends and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. I know I will.