Peggy Noonan contemplates the situation of the two parties from a somewhat higher intellectual ground.
On the Republican side an embrace, but an awkward and unfinished one. It’s like the man-hug the pol at the podium now feels he must give to the man he’s just introduced. They used to just shake and say, “Thanks, Bob,” and go to the podium. Now they embrace, with an always apparent self-consciousness. Can you imagine JFK doing this? Or Reagan?
It is this kind of embrace many in the Republican party are giving John McCain. He has real supporters. He keeps winning. But he’s not getting even close to half the vote, as the presumptive nominee should. And he has been at odds with his party on so many things. …
Mr. McCain seems to me to have two immediate problems, both of which he might address. One is that he doesn’t seem to much like conservatives, and never has. They can’t help admire him, but they’ve disagreed with him on so many issues, and when they bring this up his demeanor tends to morph into the second problem: He radiates, he telegraphs, a certain indignation at being questioned by people who’ve never had to vote in Congress and make a deal. He’s like Moe Greene in “The Godfather,” when Michael Corleone tells him he’s going to buy him out. “Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene. I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.” I’ve been on the firing line, punk. I am the voice of surviving conservatism.
This doesn’t always go over so well. Mr. Giuliani seems to know Mr. McCain is Moe Greene. Mr. Huckabee probably thought “The Godfather” was kinda violent. Mr. Romney may be thinking to himself, But Michael Corleone won in the end, and had better suits.
All parties, all movements, need men and women who will come forward every decade or so to name tendencies within that are abusive or destructive, to throw off the low and grubby. Teddy’s speech in this regard was a barnburner. He went straight against the negative and bullying, hard for the need to find inspiration again.
He is an old lion of his party, a hero of the base. But people do what they know how to do, and objects at rest tend of stay at rest, and Teddy has long led a comfortable life as a party panjandrum who knew to sit back and watch as the dog barked and the caravan moved on. In a way he seemed to rebel against his own tendencies. He put himself on the line.
“I love this country,” he said, “I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility. I always have.”
As a conservative I would say Ted Kennedy has spent much of his career being not just wrong about the issues but so deeply wrong, so consistently and reliably wrong that it had a kind of grandeur to it. So wrong that I cannot actually think of a single serious policy question on which I agreed with him. But I remember the night President Reagan spoke of Sen. Kennedy’s brother at a fund-raiser for the JFK Library, and I remember the letter Reagan got from Teddy. “Your presence itself was such a magnificent tribute to my brother. . . . The country is well served by your eloquent graceful leadership, Mr. President.” He ended it, “With my prayers and thanks for you as you as you lead us through these difficult times.”
Liberals are rarely interested in pointing out, and conservatives by and large may not know, but everyone who knows Teddy Kennedy knows that he holds a deep love for his country, that he feels a reverence for the presidency and a desire that America be represented with grace abroad and stature at home. He has seen administrations come and go. And maybe much of what he’s learned came forward, came together, this week.
His principled and uncompromising rebellion seemed to me a patriotic act, and adds to the rising tide of Geffenism. When David Geffen broke with Mrs. Clinton last summer, and couched his disapproval along ethical lines, he was almost alone among important Democrats. It took some guts. Now others are joining his side. Good.