I called my twin grandchildren, age three, about their Halloween plans.
Maya will wear "a princess outfit, with pink stockings!" Aidan is torn between wizard and pirate, but will definitely carry "a light saber, like Skywalker".
He will need it. The forces of darkness walk the land at Halloween.
Some people want to replace Halloween with a "harvest festival" and have the kids dress up as farmers.
There's nothing wrong with harvest festivals, though in ancient times they involved human sacrifice. But All Hallows Eve isn't about pumpkins; it's about jack-o-lanterns with scary faces to frighten away evil spirits that our ancestors imagined roamed the village, especially on the eve of the Celtic festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead.
In Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree," eight young trick-or-treaters are taken back in time to the beginning of our human consciousness, and its attempt to deal with dreams and death.
"A million years ago, in a cave in autumn, with ghosts inside heads, and the sun lost..." Then on to visit Egyptian mummies, and then Samhain himself, with his flashing scythe — until the Christians came, and hung the witches. Innocents attacked, throughout history — and there was death everywhere.
This, Bradbury explains, is why we dress our children as cavemen, ghosts, skeletons, mummies and witches, when once a year we face the darkness of our fears for them and ourselves. It's part of the human condition.
This year, though, the observance will not end at midnight on Oct. 31. We move on to Election Day two days later, where we face our fears of aging, sickness and death, of terrorism and our ambivalent feelings about the Iraq war. The theme of the 2004 presidential campaign is fear — and which candidate can save us.
The Democrats call forth the Social Security bogeyman that they use in every national campaign — without mentioning that demographics alone will undermine the system unless the two parties light a lantern and face them together. They promise universal health care, as if politicians can give us all long, healthy lives with well-controlled costs. Trick or treat?, seniors. Check that apple for needles before you bite into it.
John Kerry will fund Social Security and his health care plan, cut the deficit, fully fund the "No Child Left Behind" law and deal with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and terrorism in general, all by raising taxes only on those with incomes over $200,000. Wave that magic wand, wizard, multiply that gold.
The Republicans imply that the election of John Kerry will invite another terrorist attack here — nuclear bombs or biological weapons released, one after another, in our cities while Kerry tries to decide if, when and how to react.
You missed one of this year's presidential debates — the one between my son and I last week. Neither of us prevailed, of course. He will vote for Kerry and I, for Bush. But we at least have come to an understanding of each other's fears, which center around the pink princess and the wizard pirate.
He is concerned about the religious right, which he fears will impose its version of morality on his kids' future choices. I think this is highly unlikely to happen in our secular society, and have more sympathy with his fears for the environment — I too want the children to know a healthy Mother Earth.
Both of us fear they might be victims of a terrorist attack, and we don't want them to ever go to war. We also don't want them burdened with a national debt when they become taxpayers, and it would be nice if the nation's health care system can keep them healthy until they, too, can get Social Security. Naturally we hope that they will grow up free, in a country that values liberty and justice for all.
I'll bet you're with us both so far. All of us fear for our families and the future; all of us want a better world. So why the bitter debates, the negative campaign battles?
Sometimes we just disagree on root causes. My son sees terrorism as a result of oppressed populations, while I see oppressed populations as a result of bad governments and foolish economic policies. But sometimes we respond to the fact that neither candidate has told us the whole, hard truth; that none of the above comes easy, and some of it contradicts itself.
Saving Mother Earth requires an end to consumer excess, about which more of us preach than practice. The government cannot both protect us and give us endless entitlements without confiscatory taxes or a rising national debt. And the children of many generations, over many centuries, have had to fight the war against evil, with tragic loss. This is why we have freedom now, and it's the only way we will preserve it.
Bush supporters like me "get" Halloween, the re-enactment of the ancient battle between light and darkness. It can look religious, but it's not: it's just the way thing are and have always been.
Neither abolishing Halloween nor electing a liberal president can turn real life into a peaceful harvest festival, because the goblins are always at the door.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.