It began with Christmas carols on the night of Dec. 24, 1914, first sung in German, but soon spilling across "No Man's Land" and into the opposing trenches, where they were picked up in English and French -- three languages improbably blending across a battlefield in song.
What resulted became known as The Christmas Truce. For miles along the Western Front, French, English and other Allied soldiers, tentatively at first, and then by the thousands, joined their Central Power foes in the open field to share the Christmas spirit, trade what little they had, and bury the dead together. In at least one instance a soccer ball materialized and a match ensued. The spontaneous cease fire went on through Christmas Day, to the consternation of military brass on both sides. Then, as quickly as it began, it ended.
If I could step into a time machine and experience a single moment in history, it would be the moment those soldiers met . . . there in the middle. I think about it this time of year, every year.
It was naturally heartening, then, to see another Christmas detente this week, albeit a less dramatic one. Seemingly out of the blue, a budget compromise was struck in Washington between Democrat Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It was exactly what Americans yearn for -- hope, amid the bleakest political landscape, that fraternity can be rekindled among our nation's warring leaders. We badly want this to be the moment the tension broke in Washington and we, as a nation, moved forward.
It is tempting in the extreme to celebrate this deal -- and to chastise conservatives who oppose it. Don't they realize we need this? Don't they know how desperately we must have confidence in government restored? How dare those Tea Partyers spoil this sublimely bipartisan American moment.
A corner of my heart truly feels that way, but the larger part is hamstrung by the screaming reality that the conservatives are right: as much as we want harmony in our capital -- as much as we need it -- a budget that increases the country's long-term debt does more harm than good. Giving up the fight to dramatically reduce government spending and fundamentally reform entitlement programs is more akin to a suicide pact than to a budget deal.
I get the rationale on the mainstream Republican side. It's the old never-get-in-the-way-of-the-other-guy-collapsing maxim. Republicans don't want anything to happen in the coming months that might distract from the implosion of Obamacare. The target is the Senate, which suddenly seems winnable next year -- if Obamacare remains at the forefront of the national dialogue. With both the House and the Senate in their possession (a Senate with a weakened filibuster), Republicans could actually get things done in 2015.
But to a large portion of the nation -- to those watching the debt crisis with justified alarm -- the Republican Party just caved, and that will only divide it more in the end. The truth of the debt is too compelling to ignore; the price of political peace is too great. As much as we want to be lulled into the Christmas spirit, the fighting in Washington must continue.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a columnist and a Republican political consultant.