Category Archive 'Peggy Noonan'
06 Aug 2016

The Week Trump Proved He’s Crazy

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Peggy Noonan contends that Trump persuaded Americans this week that he’s crazy.

I think this week marked a certain coming to terms with where the election is going. Politics is about trends and tendencies. The trends for Donald Trump are not good, and he tends not to change.

All the damage done to him this week was self-inflicted. The arrows he’s taken are arrows he shot. We have in seven days witnessed his undignified and ungrateful reaction to a Gold Star family; the odd moment with the crying baby; the one-on-one interviews, which are starting to look like something he does in the grip of a compulsion, in which Mr. Trump expresses himself thoughtlessly, carelessly, on such issues as Russia, Ukraine and sexual harassment; the relitigating of his vulgar Megyn Kelly comments from a year ago; and, as his fortunes fell, his statement that he “would not be surprised” if the November election were “rigged.” Subject to an unprecedented assault by a sitting president who called him intellectually and characterologically unfit for the presidency, Mr Trump fired back—at Paul Ryan and John McCain.

The mad scatterbrained-ness of it was captured in a Washington Post interview with Philip Rucker in which five times by my count—again, the compulsion—Mr. Trump departed the meat of the interview to turn his head and stare at the television. On seeing himself on the screen: “Lot of energy. We got a lot of energy.” Minutes later: “Look at this. It’s all Trump all day long. That’s why their ratings are through the roof.” He’s all about screens, like a toddler hooked on iPad.

Mr. Trump spent all his time doing these things instead of doing his job: making the case for his policies, expanding on his stands, and taking the battle to Hillary Clinton.

By the middle of the week the Republican National Committee was reported to be frustrated, party leaders alarmed, donors enraged. There was talk of an “intervention.”

Here is a truth of life. When you act as if you’re insane, people are liable to think you’re insane. That’s what happened this week. People started to become convinced he was nuts, a total flake.

Read the whole thing.

13 May 2016

Peggy Noonan: Reliably, Spectacularly Wrong

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Peggy Noonan is an embarrassment as a pundit. The poor girl must be pretty well half-baked every time she sits down to bat out a column of political pontifications. She has no keel whatsoever. Whatever disaster for the Republic or mass insanity is underway, Peggy falls madly in love with.

In 2008, Peggy was flinging her panties onto the stage at Obama rallies, and gravely advising Republicans and conservatives that “the times they were a-changing” and we had better get with the program and move with the times. The GOP was, Peggy said, a neglected, out-of-fashion and unloved old house. Barack Obama, on the other hand, was the most exciting thing Peggy had ever seen.

It’s a tale of two houses. One is dilapidated, old. Everyone in the neighborhood is used to it, and they turn away when they pass. A series of people lived in it and failed to take care of it. It’s run down, needs paint. The roof sags, squirrels run through the eaves. A haunted house! No, more boring. Just a house someone . . . let go.

But over here, a new house on a new plot. It’s rising from the mud before your eyes. It has interesting lines, a promising façade, and when people walk by they stop and look. So much bustle! Builders running in and out, the contractors fighting with each other—”You wouldn’t even have this job if it weren’t for the minority set-aside!” And everyone hates the architect, who put a port-o-potty on the lawn.

But: You can’t take your eyes off it. “Something being born, and not something dying.” Maybe it will improve the neighborhood. Maybe the owners will be nice.

A year later, Peggy was a loyal member of the Republican opposition again, warning Barack Obama that in his ruthless drive to ram through the nationalization of one-sixth of the US economy he was “terrifying America.”

But, even with Peggy dumping regularly on Obama throughout the 2012 campaign, Jeff Goldstein found it difficult to forgive Peggy Noonan for supporting Obama in 2008.

[O]ne of the women who helped guilt the American people into electing a transformative Marxist with a dubious background and no governing experience, a man who, after his drug-addled youth, hung out with domestic terrorists, academic (and activist) anti-Semites, and got his religious counsel from a man steeped in hatred of Whites and Jews, as head of the free world — while simultaneously sneering down her nose at figures like Sarah Palin, who has proven over the course of time to be every bit as prescient as Ms Noonan was bamboozed, hoodwinked, and gloriously conned — is now writing to tell us the President is not who he promised he’d be. As if we haven’t been alive the last five years, or as if we were the ones whose snobbery and reflected egoism caused us to buy this charlatan’s obvious and vapid bullshit in the first place.

And, here in 2016, we find Peggy at it again, jumping on the chariot of transformative change and sneering at the old fogey skeptics trying to resist the mandate of History.

If you know Trump people in real life as opposed to through social media, if they are your friends and family members, you understand that “rage” doesn’t do them justice. They dislike the Republican Party, which they believe has consistently betrayed them, but Trump people in person are just about the only cheerful people in politics this year. They actually have hope—the system needs a hard electric shock, he’s just the man to do it, and if it doesn’t work they’ll fire him. They’re having a good time. Here I throw in a moment I had in Manhattan Thursday afternoon. I was standing on a corner on York Avenue in the 60s when a cab screeched across two lanes to stop in front of me. “I am voting for Trump!” the driver yelled through an open window. “You want to know why? He is neither right or left!” He then laughed and sped on. Not all Trump supporters are quiet about it.

Peggy even has some advice for Trump opponents:

Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.

Sometimes I think their consciences are really not so delicate.

As for the political consultants who insult Mr. Trump so vigorously, they are the ones who did most to invent him. What do they ever do in good conscience?

I’m supposed to “respect” empty-headed, ill-informed amadans who don’t follow politics, who can’t understand policy, who think pragmatism is better than having principles, and who are, once again, hurrying to make a Pop Culture Celebrity the chief magistrate of the Republic, who want to sit Bozo the Clown in the same chair once occupied by Reagan and by Washington?

I don’t look on the voting decision in 2016 as so much a matter of conscience as of common sense. No one sensible ought to be willing to support a person of bad character, a person of low intelligence, a person manifestly unprincipled, or a person lacking in a sophisticated understanding of government policy. No one of normal intelligence ought to be willing to support an obvious charlatan, a shameless liar, a vulgarian, or a bully. If you think that the remedy for the excesses of bad politics and popular delusions is to find a noiser, coarser, and less-inhibited clown and put the country in his hands, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Peggy Noonan is drunk and should go home, and so should the rest of the people supporting Donald Trump.

12 Sep 2015

Peggy Noonan on Refugees and the Elites

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Peggy Noonan argues that the European Refugee crisis features a major disconnect between the influential elites making the decisions and the ordinary citizens who have to live with the consequences.

Rules on immigration and refugees are made by safe people. These are the people who help run countries, who have nice homes in nice neighborhoods and are protected by their status. Those who live with the effects of immigration and asylum law are those who are less safe, who see a less beautiful face in it because they are daily confronted with a less beautiful reality—normal human roughness, human tensions. Decision-makers fear things like harsh words from the writers of editorials; normal human beings fear things like street crime. Decision-makers have the luxury of seeing life in the abstract. Normal people feel the implications of their decisions in the particular.

The decision-makers feel disdain for the anxieties of normal people, and ascribe them to small-minded bigotries, often religious and racial, and ignorant antagonisms. But normal people prize order because they can’t buy their way out of disorder.

People in gated communities of the mind, who glide by in Ubers, have bought their way out and are safe. Not to mention those in government-maintained mansions who glide by in SUVs followed by security details. Rulers can afford to see national-security threats as an abstraction—yes, yes, we must better integrate our new populations. But the unprotected, the vulnerable, have a right and a reason to worry.

Here is the challenge for people in politics: The better you do, the higher you go, the more detached you become from real life. You use words like “perception” a lot. But perception is not as important as reality.

The great thing in politics, the needed thing, is for those who are raised high in terms of responsibility and authority to be yet still, in their heads and hearts, of the people, experiencing life as a common person on an average street. The challenge is to carry the average street inside you. Only then, when the street is wrong, can you persuade it to see what is right.

The biggest thing leaders don’t do now is listen. They no longer hear the voices of common people. Or they imitate what they think it is and it sounds backward and embarrassing. In this age we will see political leaders, and institutions, rock, shatter and fall due to that deafness.

19 Dec 2013

Obama: Incompetent

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In 2008, when Barack Obama was advancing on the presidency by means of successfully turning himself into the year’s most popular fashion statement, the fact was occasionally remarked that Barack Obama had made his persona into a mirror which was reflecting back precisely the images his audience wanted to see, the real Obama remained an invisible enigma.

Barack Obama managed to be elected presidency, occupied the White House for four years of economic misery while magically evading responsibility for the non-recovery, and was even, astonishingly, re-elected, while remaining essentially defined by the wishful fantasies of an admiring public.

Ironically, it seems that it was Barack Obama’s signature achievement, Obamacare, the long-elusive goal of left-wing dreams which would transform America, once and for all, into a European-style Welfare State, which proved to be his nemesis, his Hurricane Katrina, the touchstone of demonstrable performance which dispelled all the illusions and defined the real Obama. And his definition, as Peggy Noonan noted yesterday, is: incompetent.

I would add that in recent weeks I have begun to worry about the basic competency of the administration, its ability to perform the most fundamental duties of executive management. One reason I worry is that I frequently speak with people who interact with the White House, and when I say, “That place just doesn’t seem to work,” they don’t defend it, they offer off-the-record examples of how poorly the government is run. …

It all looks so lax, so loosey-goosey. In the place of the energy and focus that would go into the running of things, the administering and managing of them, we have the preoccupation with spin, with how things look as opposed to how they are. The odd thing still is that the White House never misses a speech, a list of talking points, an opportunity to shape the argument on TV. They do the talking part, but the doing? They had 3½ years to make sure ObamaCare will work, three years to get it right top to bottom, to rejigger parts of the law that they finally judged wouldn’t work, to make the buying of a policy easy on the website. And they not only couldn’t do that, which itself constitutes an astounding and historic management failure, they make it clear they were taken aback by their failure. They didn’t know it was coming! Or some knew and for some reason couldn’t do anything.

And it’s all going to continue. One reason this scandal isn’t Katrina is that Katrina had a beginning and an end. The storm came, the storm left, the cleanup commenced and failed and then continued and succeeded. At some point it was over. ObamaCare will never be over. It’s going to poison the rest of the administration. It’s the story that won’t go away because it will continue to produce disorder. Wait, for instance, until small businesses realize it will be cheaper to throw their people off their coverage and take the fines than it will be to reinsure them under the new regime.

I’m worried, finally, that lines of traditionally assumed competence are being dropped. The past few weeks I can’t shake from my head this picture: The man with the football—the military aide who carries the U.S. nuclear codes, and who travels with the president—is carrying the wrong code. He’s carrying last month’s code, or the one from December 2012. And there’s a crisis—a series of dots on a radar screen traveling toward the continental U.S.—and the president is alerted. He’s in the holding room at a fundraiser out west. The man with the football is called in and he fumbles around in his briefcase and gets the code but wait, the date on the code is wrong. He scrambles, remembers there’s a file on his phone, but the phone ran out on the plane and he thought he could recharge in the holding room but there’s no electrical outlet. All eyes turn to him. “Wait—wait. No—uh—I don’t think that’s the code we use to launch against incoming from North Korea, I think that one takes out Paris!”

I have to say, I’ve never worried about this with any previous administration, ever.

Read the whole thing.

Recognizing back in 2008 that Barack Obama was nothing but an Illinois state senator with no record of meaningful accomplishment whatsoever beyond (perhaps) writing his own autobiography at age 30, and $2.99, would get you a cup of coffee.

06 Dec 2013

Jeff Goldstein Unloads on Peggy

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Jeff Goldstein also read Peggy Noonan’s latest, her devastating critique of Obama’s leadership, and he’s a lot less forgiving of her behavior in 2008 than I am.

We learn that Peggy Noonan is at her heartfelt best, noting as she does — clearly, and not for the first time (though probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 or 5 times by now) — that this Obama fellow, despite his manufactured polish, his practiced speech, and his inflated credentials, may just prove ill-equipped to really lead effectively and handle the challenges facing the nation.

– Many of which wouldn’t be facing the nation in the first place had not ostentatiously cosmopolitan and “pragmatic” GOP pundits like the ubiquitous Peggy Noonan so disturbingly creamed over candidate Obama and his academic bona fides — which amounted to studies of critical race theory, race and law, the promotion of Marxism using the language of liberty as its camouflage, and mau-mauing the flak catchers, all of which requires nothing more than a willingness to parrot back leftist talking points to leftist professors looking to turn you into activist leftist foot soldiers and then, if you happen to have the right pedigree, perhaps even greater things.

Or, to put it another way, one of the women who helped guilt the American people into electing a transformative Marxist with a dubious background and no governing experience, a man who, after his drug-addled youth hung out with domestic terrorists, academic (and activist) anti-Semites, and got his religious counsel from a man steeped in hatred of Whites and Jews, as head of the free world — while simultaneously turning down her nose at figures like Sarah Palin, who has proven over the course of time to be every bit as prescient as Ms Noonan was bamboozed, hoodwinked, and gloriously conned — is now writing to tell us the President is not who he promised he’d be.

Read the whole thing. It’s a good one.

05 Dec 2013

Peggy Noonan Explains the Obamacare Website Debacle

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Oh, how things have changed. I can remember 2008 when Peggy Noonan was smitten by the man of Destiny.

Well, the bloom is off the rose now, and Peggy has Obama’s number this time.

It’s a leader’s job to be skeptical of grand schemes. Sorry, that’s a conservative leader’s job. It is a liberal leader’s job to be skeptical that grand schemes will work as intended. You have to guide and goad and be careful.

And this president wasn’t. I think part of the reason he wasn’t careful is because he sort of lives in words. That’s been his whole professional life—books, speeches. Say something and it magically exists as something said, and if it’s been said and publicized it must be real. He never had to push a lever, see the machine not respond, puzzle it out and fix it. It’s all been pretty abstract for him, not concrete. He never had to stock a store, run a sale and see lots of people come but the expenses turn out to be larger than you’d expected and the profits smaller, and you have to figure out what went wrong and do better next time.

People say Mr. Obama never had to run anything, but it may be more important that he never worked for the guy who had to run something, and things got fouled up along the way and he had to turn it around. He never had to meet a payroll, never knew that stress. He probably never had to buy insurance! And you know, his policies were probably gold-plated—at the law firm, through his wife’s considerable hospital job, in the Illinois Legislature, in the U.S. Senate. Those guys know how to take care of themselves! Maybe he felt guilty. Maybe that’s to his credit, knowing he was lucky. Too bad he didn’t know what he didn’t know, like how every part has to work for a complicated machine to work.

Here I will say something harsh, and it’s connected to the thing about words but also images.

From what I have seen the administration is full of young people who’ve seen the movie but not read the book. They act bright, they know the reference, they’re credentialed. But they’ve only seen the movie about, say, the Cuban missile crisis, and then they get into a foreign-policy question and they’re seeing movies in their heads. They haven’t read the histories, the texts, which carry more information, more texture, data and subtlety, and different points of view. They’ve only seen the movie—the Cubans had the missiles and Jack said “Not another war” and Bobby said “Pearl Harbor in reverse” and dreadful old Curtis LeMay chomped his cigar and said “We can fry a million of ‘em by this afternoon, Mr. President.” Grrr, grrr, good guys beat bad guys.

It’s as if history isn’t real to them. They run around tweeting, all of them, even those in substantial positions. “Darfur government inadequate. Genocide unacceptable.” They share their feelings – that happens to be one of the things they seem to think is real, what they feel. “Unjust treatment of women—scourge that hurts my heart.” This is the dialogue to the movies in their heads.

There’s a sense that they’re all freelancing, not really part of anything coherent.

For four years I have been told, by those who’ve worked in the administration and those who’ve visited it as volunteers or contractors, that the Obama White House isn’t organized. It’s just full of chatter. Meetings don’t begin on time, there’s no agenda, the list of those invited seems to expand and contract at somebody’s whim. There is a tendency to speak of how a problem will look and how its appearance should be handled, as opposed to what the problem is and should be done about it. People speak airily, without point. They scroll down, see a call that has to be returned, pop out and then in again.

It does not sound like a professional operation. And this is both typical of White Houses and yet on some level extreme. People have always had meetings to arrange meetings, but the lack of focus, the lack of point, the sense that they are operating within accepted levels of incoherence—this all sounds, actually, peculiar.

And when you apply this to the ObamaCare debacle, suddenly it seems to make sense. The White House is so unformed and chaotic that they probably didn’t ignore the problem, they probably held a million meetings on it. People probably said things like, “We’re experiencing some technological challenges but we’re sure we’ll be up by October,” and other people said, “Yes, it’s important we launch strong,” and others said, “The Republicans will have a field day if we’re not.” And then everyone went to their next meeting. And no one did anything. And the president went off and made speeches.

Because the doing isn’t that important, the talking is.

Read the whole, devastating thing.

12 Oct 2012

Assessing Last Night’s Debate

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Amusingly, partisan commentators from both sides are claiming victory. So the way to tell who really won is to check what the kind of commentator who can be counted to be found jumping on the winning bandwagon is saying. Let’s look at Peggy Noonan‘s analysis:

There were fireworks all the way, and plenty of drama. Each candidate could claim a win in one area or another, but by the end it looked to me like this: For the second time in two weeks, the Democrat came out and defeated himself. In both cases the Republican was strong and the Democrat somewhat disturbing.

Another way to say it is the old man tried to patronize the kid and the kid stood his ground. The old man pushed, and the kid pushed back.

Last week Mr. Obama was weirdly passive. Last night Mr. Biden was weirdly aggressive, if that is the right word for someone who grimaces, laughs derisively, interrupts, hectors, rolls his eyes, browbeats and attempts to bully. He meant to dominate, to seem strong and no-nonsense. Sometimes he did—he had his moments. But he was also disrespectful and full of bluster. “Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy!” he snapped at one point. It was an echo of Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, in 1988. But Mr. Quayle, who had compared himself to Kennedy, had invited the insult. Mr. Ryan had not. It came from nowhere. Did Mr. Biden look good? No, he looked mean and second-rate. He meant to undercut Mr. Ryan, but he undercut himself. His grimaces and laughter were reminiscent of Al Gore’s sighs in 2000—theatrical, off-putting and in the end self-indicting.

Mr. Ryan was generally earnest, fluid, somewhat wonky, confident. He occasionally teetered on the edge of glibness and sometimes fell off. …

I have just realized the problem with the debate: it was the weird distance between style and content, and the degree to which Mr. Biden’s style poisoned his content.

In terms of content—the seriousness and strength of one’s positions and the ability to argue for them—the debate was probably a draw, with both candidates having strong moments. But in terms of style, Mr. Biden was so childishly manipulative that it will be surprising if independents and undecideds liked what they saw.

National Democrats keep confusing strength with aggression and command with sarcasm. Even the latter didn’t work for Mr. Biden. The things he said had the rhythm and smirk of sarcasm without the cutting substance.

And so the Romney-Ryan ticket emerged ahead. Its momentum was neither stopped nor slowed and likely was pushed forward.

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Another way to tell who’s winning is to watch the random omens. For instance, today Lindsay Lohan endorsed Romney.

30 Mar 2012

Recipe For Electoral Disaster

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Peggy Noonan reflects on how the current president decidedly worsened his relationship with his opponents, while never really developing much of a relationship with the general electorate.

Something’s happening to President Obama’s relationship with those who are inclined not to like his policies. They are now inclined not to like him. His supporters would say, “Nothing new there,” but actually I think there is. I’m referring to the broad, stable, nonradical, non-birther right. Among them the level of dislike for the president has ratcheted up sharply the past few months.

It’s not due to the election, and it’s not because the Republican candidates are so compelling and making such brilliant cases against him. That, actually, isn’t happening.

What is happening is that the president is coming across more and more as a trimmer, as an operator who’s not operating in good faith. This is hardening positions and leading to increased political bitterness. And it’s his fault, too. As an increase in polarization is a bad thing, it’s a big fault. …

In terms of the broad electorate, I’m not sure he really has a relationship. A president only gets a year or two to forge real bonds with the American people. In that time a crucial thing he must establish is that what is on his mind is what is on their mind. This is especially true during a crisis.

From the day Mr. Obama was sworn in, what was on the mind of the American people was financial calamity—unemployment, declining home values, foreclosures. These issues came within a context of some overarching questions: Can America survive its spending, its taxing, its regulating, is America over, can we turn it around?

That’s what the American people were thinking about.

But the new president wasn’t thinking about that. All the books written about the creation of economic policy within his administration make clear the president and his aides didn’t know it was so bad, didn’t understand the depth of the crisis, didn’t have a sense of how long it would last. They didn’t have their mind on what the American people had their mind on.

The president had his mind on health care. And, to be fair-minded, health care was part of the economic story. But only a part! And not the most urgent part. Not the most frightening, distressing, immediate part. Not the ‘Is America over?’ part.

And so the relationship the president wanted never really knitted together. Health care was like the birth-control mandate: It came from his hermetically sealed inner circle, which operates with what seems an almost entirely abstract sense of America. They know Chicago, the machine, the ethnic realities. They know Democratic Party politics. They know the books they’ve read, largely written by people like them—bright, credentialed, intellectually cloistered. But there always seems a lack of lived experience among them, which is why they were so surprised by the town hall uprisings of August 2009 and the 2010 midterm elections.

I think Peggy hit this one dead on. People are shocked at the president and his administration’s utter indifference toward, and contempt for, perspectives and values different from his own. We’ve never had a president, however liberal, who would simply shrug off the constitutional protection of religious freedom so casually. Beyond that, Obama not only failed to act so as to restore economic confidence to improve the economy, he made it perfectly clear that, for him, social justice (and democrat party patronage) was far more important than prosperity and growth.

It isn’t clear that Mitt Romney (or whoever) really deserves to win, but Barack Obama certainly deserves to lose.

31 Jul 2011

Peggy Noonan on Obama: “Nobody Loves a Loser”

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Peggy Noonan has her faults. She runs with the herd, she is totally incapable of standing up to a solid elite consensus, and she has a tendency to specialize in bathos and sentimentality. You can tell that’s she’s Irish, alright. But one has to hand it to Peggy Noonan: when she decides to put in the boot, she does it right. Nobody can annihilate a deserving politician, leaving only scorched earth behind, like Peggy Noonan.

Mr. Obama seemed brilliant at politics when he first emerged in 2004. He understood the nation’s longing for unity. We’re not divided into red states and blue, he said, we’re Big Purple, we can solve our problems together. Four years later he read the lay of the land perfectly—really, perfectly. The nation and the Democratic Party were tired of the Clinton machine. He came from nowhere and dismantled it. It was breathtaking. He went into the 2008 general election with a miraculously unified party and took down another machine, bundling up all the accrued resentment of eight years with one message: “You know the two losing wars and the economic collapse we’ve been dealing with? I won’t do that. I’m not Bush.”

The fact is, he’s good at dismantling. He’s good at critiquing. He’s good at not being the last guy, the one you didn’t like. But he’s not good at building, creating, calling into being. He was good at summoning hope, but he’s not good at directing it and turning it into something concrete that answers a broad public desire.

And so his failures in the debt ceiling fight. He wasn’t serious, he was only shrewd—and shrewdness wasn’t enough. He demagogued the issue—no Social Security checks—until he was called out, and then went on the hustings spouting inanities. He left conservatives scratching their heads: They could have made a better, more moving case for the liberal ideal as translated into the modern moment, than he did. He never offered a plan. In a crisis he was merely sly. And no one likes sly, no one respects it.

So he is losing a battle in which he had superior forces—the presidency, the U.S. Senate. In the process he revealed that his foes have given him too much mystique. He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist. He is a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser.

I bet the White House didn’t enjoy reading this one.

12 Dec 2010

The Angry Obama

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Peggy Noonan marvels at Barack Obama’s approach to cheerleading for compromise.

We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.

President Obama was supposed to be announcing an important compromise, as he put it, on tax policy. Normally a president, having agreed with the opposition on something big, would go through certain expected motions. He would laud the specific virtues of the plan, show graciousness toward the negotiators on the other side—graciousness implies that you won—and refer respectfully to potential critics as people who’ll surely come around once they are fully exposed to the deep merits of the plan.

Instead Mr. Obama said, essentially, that he hates the deal he just agreed to, hates the people he made the deal with, and hates even more the people who’ll criticize it. His statement was startling in the breadth of its animosity. Republicans are “hostage takers” who worship a “holy grail” of “tax cuts for the wealthy.” “That seems to be their central economic doctrine.”

As for the left, they ignore his accomplishments and are always looking for “weakness and compromise.” They are “sanctimonious,” “purist,” and just want to “feel good about” themselves. In a difficult world, they cling to their “ideal positions” and constant charges of “betrayals.”

Those not of the left might view all this as straight talk, and much needed. But if you were of the left it would only deepen your anger and sharpen your response. Which it did. “Gettysburg,” “sellout,” “disaster.”

The president must have thought that distancing himself from left and right would make him more attractive to the center. But you get credit for going to the center only if you say the centrist position you’ve just embraced is right. If you suggest, as the president did, that the seemingly moderate plan you agreed to is awful and you’ll try to rescind it in two years, you won’t leave the center thinking, “He’s our guy!” You’ll leave them thinking, “Note to self: Remove Obama in two years.”

This week, Obama seems to have hit the same point-of-no-return in which he is visibly angry with the American people for not supporting his policies that Jimmy Carter did at the time of his “malaise” speech.

07 Nov 2010

“The Worst Thing You Can Say About a President”

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Back at the end of October in 2008, Peggy Noonan hurriedly jumped on the express train to the Finland Station, endorsing Barack Obama in quite warm terms, and dismissing regrets or apologies by pointing to the mandate of heaven.

[L]et’s be frank. Something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment. History happens, it makes its turns, you hold on for dear life. Life moves.

Peggy is still holding on to history’s roller-coaster car for dear life but, happily, the turns of the track have brought Peggy (along with David Brooks and the rest of the establishment commentariat) back to the right side. This week, Peggy Noonan, rather than praising Barack Obama, was delivering the ultimate editorial coup de grace.

On Wednesday, President Obama gave a news conference to share his thoughts. Viewers would have found it disappointing if there had been any viewers. The president is speaking, in effect, to an empty room. From my notes five minutes in: “This wet blanket, this occupier of the least interesting corner of the faculty lounge, this joy-free zone, this inert gas.” By the end I was certain he will never produce a successful stimulus because he is a human depression.

Actually I thought the worst thing you can say about a president: He won’t even make a good former president.

His detachment is so great, it is even from himself. As he spoke, he seemed to be narrating from a remove. It was like hearing the audiobook of Volume I of his presidential memoirs. “Obama was frustrated. He honestly didn’t understand what the country was doing. It was as if they had compulsive hand-washing disorder. In ’08 they washed off Bush. Now they’re washing off Obama. There he is, swirling down the drain! It’s all too dramatic, too polar. The morning after the election it occurred to him: maybe he should take strong action. Maybe he should fire America! They did well in 2008, but since then they’ve been slipping. They weren’t giving him the followership he needed. But that wouldn’t work, they’d only complain. He had to keep his cool. His aides kept telling him, ‘Show humility.’ But they never told him what humility looked like. What was he supposed to do, burst into tears and say hit me? Not knowing how to feel humility or therefore show humility he decided to announce humility: He found the election ‘humbling,’ he said.”

Read the whole thing.

10 Oct 2010

Americans Hate Elites For Changing America

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The liberal elite, when faced with resistance to its agenda, invariably contemptuously labels its opponents as people afraid of change. Peggy Noonan, in one of her better columns, (alas! for subscribers only) in the Wall Street Journal, explains that the popular revolt which is going to bury the democrat party in the next cycle of elections is fueled by perfectly legitimate fear of, and opposition to, change: change in the nature of the country’s character and culture.

There is a real fear that government, with all its layers, its growth, its size, its imperviousness, is changing, or has changed, who we are. And that if we lose who we are, as Americans, we lose everything.

This is part of what’s driving the sense of political urgency this year, especially within precincts of the tea party.

The most vivid illustration of the fear comes, actually, from another country, Greece, and is brilliantly limned by Michael Lewis in October’s Vanity Fair. In “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds,” he outlines Greece’s economic catastrophe. It is a bankrupt nation, its debt, or rather the amount of debt that has so far been unearthed and revealed, coming to “more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek.” Over decades the Greeks turned their government “into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums” and gave “as many citizens as possible a whack at it.” The average government job pays almost three times as much as the average private-sector job. The retirement age for “arduous” jobs, including hairdressers, radio announcers and musicians, is 55 for men and 50 for women. After that, a generous pension. The tax system has disintegrated. It is a welfare state with a cash economy.

Much of this is well known, though it is beautifully stated. But all of it, Mr. Lewis asserts, has badly damaged the Greek character. “It is simply assumed . . . that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. . . . Government officials are assumed to steal.” Tax fraud is rampant. Everyone cheats. “It’s become a cultural trait,” a tax collector tells him.

Mr. Lewis: “The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. . . . Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible.”

Thus can great nations, great cultures, disintegrate, break into little pieces that no longer cohere into a whole. …

Government not only can change the national character, it can bizarrely channel national energy. And this is another theme in my mailbox, the rebellion against what government increasingly forces us to become: a nation of accountants.

No matter what level of life in which you operate, you are likely overwhelmed by forms, by a blizzard of regulations, rules, new laws. This is not new, it’s just always getting worse. Priests are forced to be accountants now, and army officers, and dentists. The single most onerous part of ObamaCare is the tax change whereby spending $600 on goods or services will require a 1099 form. Economists will tell you of the financial cost of this, but I would argue that Paperwork Nation is utterly at odds with the American character.

Because Americans weren’t born to be accountants. It’s not in our DNA! We’re supposed to be building the Empire State Building. We were meant—to be romantic about it, and why not—to be a pioneer people, to push on, invent electricity, shoot the bear, bootleg the beer, write the novel, create, reform and modernize great industries. We weren’t meant to be neat and tidy record keepers. We weren’t meant to wear green eyeshades. We looked better in a coonskin cap!

There is I think a powerful rebellion against all this. It isn’t a new rebellion—it was part of Goldwaterism, and Reaganism—but it’s rising again.

For those who wonder why so many people have come to hate, or let me change it to profoundly dislike, “the elites,” especially the political elite, here is one reason: It is because they have armies of accountants to do this work for them. Those in power institute the regulations and rules, and then hire people to protect them from the burdens and demands of their legislation. There is no congressman passing tax law who doesn’t have staffers in his office taking care of his own financial life and who will not, when he moves down the street into the lobbying firm, have an army of accountants to protect him there.

Washington is now to some degree the focus of the same sort of profound resentment that Hollywood liberals inspired when they really mattered, or seemed really powerful. For decades they made films that were not helpful to our culture or society, that were full of violence and sick imagery. But they often brought their own children up more or less protected from the effects of the culture they created. Private schools, nannies, therapists, tutors. They bought their way out of the cultural mayhem to which they’d contributed. Their children were fine. Yours were on their own.

This is part of why people dislike “the elites” and why “the elites,” especially in Washington, must in turn be responsive, come awake, start to notice. People don’t like it when they fear you are subtly, day by day, year by year, changing the personality and character of their nation. They think, “You are ruining our country and insulating yourselves from the ruin. We hate you.”

28 May 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

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“I missed him even before he was gone.” Steve Bodio remembers long-time Audubon magazine editor Les Line, who evidently had a Weatherby cartridge board and a poster of a Smith & Wesson Model 29 in his Manhattan office.

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Progressive Amnesia: James E. Calfee responds to the attacks on Rand Paul for “not understanding” that state coercion of private businesses was necessary to end segregation by pointing out that the system of racial segregation in public accomodations known as “Jim Crow” was not created by the individual decisions of private business owners. It was put into effect by government through a series of laws passed by Progressive era legislators which were then upheld by the Supreme Court.

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NYT: White House Used Bill Clinton to Ask Sestak to Drop Out of Race.

18 USC Section 600: Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

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Peggy Noonan:

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: “Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust.” Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: “We pay so much for the government and it can’t cap an undersea oil well!”

16 May 2010

Meritocracy and Socialism

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Peggy Noonan reflects on the ironies of American meritocracy laboring mightily… and delivering an establishment full of socialists. And exactly how committed to socialism is the successful gamesman who has finally clambered all the way to the top by hard work, talent, and no small quantity of discretion and craft?

Personally, I tend to suspect that Socialism functions in much the same way for these people that Religion used to for earlier establishmentarians. One regularly attends services and is officially a member of the church, but it has not got a lot to do with one’s actual business life.

What is interesting about the nomination is that all the criticisms serious people have lobbed about so far are true. Yes, she is an ace Ivy League networker. Yes, career seems to have been all, which speaks of certain limits, at least of experience. She has been embraced by the media elite and all others who know they will be berated within 30 seconds by an irate passenger if they talk on a cellphone in the quiet car of the Washington-bound Acela. (If our media elite do not always seem upstanding, it is in part because every few weeks they can be seen bent over and whispering furtively into a train seat.) Ms. Kagan and her counterparts all started out 30 years ago trying to undo the establishment, and now they are the establishment. If you need any proof of this it is that in their essays and monographs they no longer mention “the establishment.”

Ms. Kagan’s nomination has also highlighted America’s ambivalence about what we have always said we wanted, a meritocracy. Work hard, be smart, rise. The result is an aristocracy of wired brainiacs, of highly focused, well-credentialed careerists. There’s something limited, even creepy, in all this ferocious drive, this well-applied brilliance. There’s a sense that everything is abstract to those who succeed in this world, that what they know of life is not grounded in hard experience but absorbed through screens—computer screens, movie screens, TV screens. Our focus on mere brains is creepy, too. Brains aren’t everything, heart and soul are something too. We do away with all the deadwood, but even dead trees have a place in the forest.

The ones on top now and in the future will be those who start off with the advantage not of great wealth but of the great class marker of the age: two parents who are together and who drive their children toward academic excellence. It isn’t “Mom and Dad had millions” anymore as much as “Mom and Dad made me do my homework, gave me emotional guidance, made sure I got to trombone lessons, and drove me to soccer.”

We know little of the inner workings of Ms. Kagan’s mind, her views and opinions, beliefs and stands. The blank-slate problem is the post-Robert Bork problem. The Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987 took everything Judge Bork had ever said or written, ripped it from context, wove it into a rope, and flung it across his shoulders like a hangman’s noose. Ambitious young lawyers watched and rethought their old assumption that it would help them in their rise to be interesting and quotable. In fact, they’d have to be bland and indecipherable. Court nominees are mysteries now.

Which raises a question: After 30 years of grimly enforced discretion, are you a mystery to yourself? If you spend a lifetime being a leftist or rightist thinker but censoring yourself and acting out, day by day, a bland and judicious pondering of all sides, will you, when you get your heart’s desire and reach the high court, rip off your suit like Superman in the phone booth and fully reveal who you are? Or, having played the part of the bland, vague centrist for so long, will you find that you have actually become a bland, vague centrist? One always wonders this with nominees now.

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