The 19th-century British author Charles Dickens, who produced a body of work almost the size of the Library of Congress, is best remembered for only a modest portion of that output -- namely, the Yuletide classic A Christmas Carol and the pronouncement, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times" from A Tale of Two Cities.
Both are in our minds this holiday season -- one in which we hear, on the one hand, glad tidings of an economic revival, and on the other, the gloomy news that our national terror alert has been raised by the Department of Homeland Security to Level Orange. Ho Ho -- Oh! It is a schizoid condition we live in, at best.
We have not been bashful about proclaiming the current national administration to be Scrooge-like in its indifference to the great run of humanity and in its special favors for the high and mighty. Like everybody else -- save for a few diehard Baathists -- we shed no holiday tears for Saddam Hussein, but we would beseech Messrs. Bush and Rumsfeld and Mademoiselle Rice to remember that it is Osama bin Laden who has done us irreparable harm and threatens us with even more. We are not likely to be more than temporarily diverted from our anxieties by the capture and trial of other bearded, vagrant types, even if they are certifiable archvillains.
Our mixed feelings concerning the future extend to our state and local scenes, as well. We take pleasure, for example, in the businesslike attitude of our current state administration. In his budgetary openness and his desire to prune away the inessential in state government, Governor Phil Bredesen almost seems capable of making us remember that we are Tennesseans first and Republicans or Democrats second. But we are pained to learn that our quest for solvency may necessarily lead to the termination of TennCare -- bad news for the penniless and the uninsurable among us.
What goes around comes around. Locally, we still have the quandary of how to prop up The Med and how to keep on dispensing even minimal care to the mentally ill. We continue to be embarrassed by the specter of failing schools and can only hope that the shakeups planned by new city schools superintendent Carol Johnson will give us a Christmas future that will set the former ghosts to rest.
We have been put on notice that our city and county tax rates will go up -- the obvious counterpoint to declining state revenues and giveaway tax breaks at the national level? Presidential candidate Howard Dean has recently put the emphasis on this syllogism: Careless tax cuts at the federal level equal higher costs and raised tuitions and the like at the local level. And even should the messenger himself eventually fall short, the substance of his message remains.
We are a mighty nation and a steadfast people, but there is always at the heart of our being some perishable quality of potential goodness that is like Tiny Tim, and it is our fondest hope that the story we are living, like the one written by Dickens, ends well -- or, at least, continues in good grace.