This year has been notable in one sad respect. Hardly has the festive season come with so many unwanted presents.
We could begin with the ghastly gift conferred on the Democratic Party by the totally unsolicited reappearance of Gary Hart's face pressed against the presidential window. For Democrats, it was like having the pipes burst on Christmas Eve.
For the other Democratic candidates, it was the coal in the Christmas stocking.
Vice President Bush got a present from an inadvertent giver of whom he asked nothing but silence. Bush had been feeling pretty good during the season to be jolly. Except in Iowa, he was surging ahead of his closest contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.). He had strapped on the sandals and taken up the staff of the peacemaker. He was moving purposefully away from the past, protesting that he may have been loyal to a fault to his "partner," the president, but barely mindful of his partner's biggest blunder, the arms sales to Iran.
Then out of the bowels of a computer came an old message with the bite of an arrow from the grave. It was from Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter -- whom Bush had had to the house for Christmas cheer just two days before -- and it said, lethally, that Bush had been "solid" for the arms sale. It will not be enough in the next Republican debate to call Pete du Pont "Pierre" or wait for the welcome time's-up chimes to counter this. It is, in fact, enough to make a man kick his dog at Yuletide.
There are other lamentable examples. Congress gave the Nicaraguan contras more money so they can go on killing, burning and kidnaping. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said we should make up our minds whether we want war or peace in Central America. A Democratic Congress gave the Republican answer: War.
The contras responded in kind. They put on a military offensive in the spirit of the season. While five Central American presidents are striving to show that they can bring order to their neighborhood, and the Sandinistas are doing their best -- which is never very good -- to comply with the Arias peace plan -- the contras started shooting again.
We gave 12 F5E fighter planes to Honduras. Doubtless the Honduran generals were thrilled with their new toys. Men of all ages love fighting machines. But does Central America need any more weapons?
We made a terrible fuss over the fact that the Sandinistas asked for a squadron of MiGs in their letter to their Santa in the Kremlin. But the 12 fighter planes we're sending to Honduras are somehow different.
Then, to Bahrain, we sent 14 launchers and 70 Stinger missiles -- not exactly a partridge in a pear tree.
Oh, yes, Israel got another batch of F16s. We're always sending arms to Israel, and nobody would have noticed except that the Israelis are putting on a show of force that has been condemned by the world.
On the home front, we got a little shudder, too, in the mail. We residents of the District of Columbia received greetings from our mayor, Marion Barry. It's a two-color, glossy brochure called (in red letters) Snow Removal Program. The cover picture shows a man standing by a snowplow, a vehicle we hardly knew existed from our experiences in the Great Snow of last January.
Washington is a city where singing or whistling "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas" is punishable by a jail term, a fine or both.
Not even the most fanatical sentimentalist would dream of "sleighbells in the snow" in these parts, although, come to think of it, a sleigh might be the only way to get around.
"Snow," says the pamphlet, the centerfold of which is a blood-red map of the many streets from which your car will be towed during a snowstorm, "it's a serious business!"
As if we didn't know.
The mayor, without admitting that anything went wrong during the big white-out of the Capitol, an event he only heard about since he was in Pasadena at the time, says he has reexamined "our city's Snow Program." It's not that what happened -- or didn't happen -- before was his fault; there was simply too much snow: "More . . . on the ground than any other city in the country including Anchorage, Alaska!" Don't blame him.
For those who hoped for a little reassurance in this time of hope and joy, the tidings were not good. It's up to us. Get our cars off the street, shovel our sidewalks and shovel our bus-stops. There's a great deal of talk about what will happen to us if we don't do these things, none of it pleasant, but deserved, the brochure tells us, by people who "allow a vehicle to become stalled" on a Snow Emergency Route.
But, as the English say, "We mustn't grumble, must we?" In this season of jolting gifts, we should expect our share.