Category Archive 'Peggy Noonan'
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.

19 Mar 2010

Obama Takes the Road to Demon Pass

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Peggy Noonan catches out Obama’s evasive manuevers and efforts to pull rank during an unusual interview this week on Fox News and in her own distinctive Celtic Bard manner produces an early draft of the epitaph for the current presidency.

[The interview Wednesday on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report With Bret Baier was] the most revealing and important broadcast interview of Barack Obama ever. It revealed his primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn’t want revealed, which is that he doesn’t want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety. At any rate, the interview was what such interviews rarely are, a public service. That it occurred at a high-stakes time, with so much on the line, only made it more electric. …

[T]he Baier interview was something, and right from the beginning. Mr. Baier’s first question was whether the president supports the so-called Slaughter rule, alternatively known as “deem and pass,” which would avoid a straight up-or-down House vote on the Senate bill. (Tunku Varadarajan in the Daily Beast cleverly notes that it sounds like “demon pass,” which it does. Maybe that’s the juncture we’re at.) Mr. Obama, in his response, made the usual case for ObamaCare. Mr. Baier pressed him. The president said, “The vote that’s taken in the House will be a vote for health-care reform.” We shouldn’t, he added, concern ourselves with “the procedural issues.” …

And so it ends, with a health-care vote expected this weekend. I wonder at what point the administration will realize it wasn’t worth it—worth the discord, worth the diminution in popularity and prestige, worth the deepening of the great divide. What has been lost is so vivid, what has been gained so amorphous, blurry and likely illusory. Memo to future presidents: Never stake your entire survival on the painful passing of a bad bill. Never take the country down the road to Demon Pass.

Read the whole thing.

I must confess that I look forward to the weekend editions of the Wall Street Journal, in which these days Peggy Noonan can be expected to be found, hair disordered, rising threateningly from the mist, to intone, week after week, a new malediction or fatal prophecy aimed directly at Barack Obama.

It was not so very long ago that Peggy Noonan was supporting him. Peggy was one of the commentators on the right most firmly ensconsed in the establishment and, just like David Brooks, she was unable to resist the seductive appeal of Barack Obama’s pretense of dignity and moderation and his gift of gab.

When Obama proceeded to drop the veil of moderation, and revealed himself in practice to be a looting radical leftist determined to ram socialism down America’s throat, Peggy Noonan took the kind of personal offense that the Queen of Elfland might have taken when she discovered that the mortal who had gained her favor really intended to bulldoze her sacred grove and erect a strip mall.

Obama was extremely good at winning over the proudest and most cerebral of the center-right commentariat, and he has proven to be even better at disillusioning them and provoking their wrath.

07 Mar 2010

Barack Obama, Disaster

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I can remember, oh, so well, just how much Peggy Noonan liked Barack Obama back in 2008. Well, things certainly have changed. This week, Peggy Noonan says that the presidency of Barack Obama is What a Disaster Looks Like, and she is applying to her former idol a very uncomplimentary light bulb joke.

Why, in 2009, create a new crisis over an important but secondary issue when we already have the Great Recession and two wars? Prudence and soundness of judgment are more greatly needed at the moment.

New presidents should never, ever, court any problem that isn’t already banging at the door. They should never summon trouble. Mr. Obama did, boldly, perhaps even madly. And this is perhaps the oddest thing about No Drama Obama: In his first year as president he created unneeded political drama, and wound up seen by many Americans not as the hero but the villain.

In Washington among sympathetic political hands (actually, most of them sound formerly sympathetic) you hear the word “intervention,” as in: “So-and-so tried an intervention with the president and it didn’t work.” So-and-so tried to tell him he’s in trouble with the public and must moderate, recalibrate, back off from health care. The end of the story is always that so-and-so got nowhere.

David Gergen a few weeks ago told the Financial Times the administration puts him in mind of the old joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. But the lightbulb must want to change. I don’t think President Obama wants to make any changes.”

30 Oct 2009

Callous Children

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Peggy Noonan is feeling a bit depressed today contemplating 1990 unreadable pages costing $2.24 million dollars a word.

While Americans feel increasingly disheartened, their leaders evince a mindless . . . one almost calls it optimism, but it is not that.

It is a curious thing that those who feel most mistily affectionate toward America, and most protective toward it, are the most aware of its vulnerabilities, the most aware that it can be harmed. They don’t see it as all-powerful, impregnable, unharmable. The loving have a sense of its limits.

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren’t they worried about the impact of what they’re doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they’ve never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don’t have the habit of worry. They talk about their “concerns”—they’re big on that word. But they’re not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa’s lap.

They don’t feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—”strongest nation in the world,” “indispensable nation,” “unipolar power,” “highest standard of living”—and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

We are governed at all levels by America’s luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they’re not optimists—they’re unimaginative. They don’t have faith, they’ve just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don’t mind it when people become disheartened. They don’t even notice.

17 Oct 2009

“A Nation Fully Settled By Government”

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Peggy Noonan contends that the Progressive Frontier of government expansion closed some time ago. Americans already have all the government, all the services, taxes, and regulations they can stand. Barack Obama and the democrats in Congress are yearning to go back to a Depression era past in which paternalistic leaders in Washington taxed and spent, and delivered de haute en bas charitable goodies to grateful voters. Americans today know that they will have to pay for any gifts sent to them from Washington themselves.

I’m not sure the White House can tell the difference between campaign mode and governing mode, but it is the difference between “us versus them” and “us.” People sense the president does too much of the former, and this is reflected not only in words but decisions, such as the pursuit of a health-care agenda that was inevitably divisive. It has lost the public’s enthusiastic backing, if it ever had it, but is gaining on Capitol Hill. People don’t want whatever it is they’re about to get, and they’re about to get it. In that atmosphere everything grates, but most especially us-versus-them-ism.

The biggest thing supporters of a health care overhaul do not understand about those who oppose their efforts, and who oppose the Baucus bill, which has triumphantly passed the Senate Finance Committee even though no one knows exactly what is or will end up in it, is the issue of context.

The Democratic Party and the White House repeatedly suggest that if you are not for the bill or an overhaul, you don’t care about your fellow human beings and you love and support the insurance companies. Actually, no one loves the insurance companies, including the insurance companies. … But the Obama administration’s strategy of making (the insurance industry) “the villain” in “the narrative” will probably not have that much punch because . . . well, again, who likes the insurance companies? Who ever did?

People who oppose a health-care overhaul are not in love with insurance companies. They’re not even in love with the status quo. Everyone knows the jerry-built system of the past half-century has weak points. They just don’t think the current plan will shore them up. They think the plan would create new weak points and widen old ones. They think this because they have brains.

But even that doesn’t get to the real subtext of the opposition. Yes, the timing is wrong—we have other, more urgent crises to face, and an exploding deficit. And yes, a big change in a huge economic sector during economic crisis is looking for trouble.

But a big part of opposition to the health-care plan is a sense of historical context. People actually have a sense of the history they’re living in and the history their country has recently lived through. They understand the moment we’re in.

In the days of the New Deal, in the 1930s, government growth was virgin territory. It was like pushing west through a continent that seemed new and empty. There was plenty of room to move. The federal government was still small and relatively lean, the income tax was still new. America pushed on, creating what it created: federal programs, departments and initiatives, Social Security. In the mid-1960s, with the Great Society, more or less the same thing. Government hadn’t claimed new territory in a generation, and it pushed on—creating Medicare, Medicaid, new domestic programs of all kinds, the expansion of welfare and the safety net.

Now the national terrain is thick with federal programs, and with state, county, city and town entities and programs, from coast to coast. It’s not virgin territory anymore, it’s crowded. We are a nation fully settled by government. We are well into the age of the welfare state, the age of government. We know its weight, heft and demands, know its costs both in terms of money and autonomy, even as we know it has made many of our lives more secure, and helped many to feel encouragement.

But we know the price now. This is the historical context. The White House often seems disappointed that the big center, the voters in the middle of the spectrum, aren’t all that excited about following them on their bold new journey. But it’s a world America has been to. It isn’t new to us. And we don’t have too many illusions about it.

10 Aug 2009

Terrifying America

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Obama on the run

Peggy Noonan went scurrying back toward what she perceived as the center in the last election, and she is finding, only months later, that Barack Obama and the democrat Congressional leadership are anything but centrist.

Peggy Noonan is not buying the left’s talking points about “astroturf” and hired senior operatives sent by the Insurance Industry and Rush Limbaugh. She thinks the American people are really becoming scared, scared of deficits, scared of irresponsible policies hastily enacted, and scared of the impact upon themselves of vast expansions of remote federal power.

To her, Obama and the democrats appear to be in serious trouble.

We have entered uncharted territory in the fight over national health care. There’s a new tone in the debate, and it’s ugly. At the moment the Democrats are looking like something they haven’t looked like in years, and that is: desperate.

They must know at this point they should not have pushed a national health-care plan. A Democratic operative the other day called it “Hillary’s revenge.” When Mrs. Clinton started losing to Barack Obama in the primaries 18 months ago, she began to give new and sharper emphasis to her health-care plan. Mr. Obama responded by talking about his health-care vision. He won. Now he would push what he had been forced to highlight: Health care would be a priority initiative. The net result is falling support for his leadership on the issue, falling personal polls, and the angry town-hall meetings that have electrified YouTube.

In his first five months in office, Mr. Obama had racked up big wins—the stimulus, children’s health insurance, House approval of cap-and-trade. But he stayed too long at the hot table. All the Democrats in Washington did. They overinterpreted the meaning of the 2008 election, and didn’t fully take into account how the great recession changed the national mood and atmosphere.

And so the shock on the faces of Congressmen who’ve faced the grillings back home. And really, their shock is the first thing you see in the videos. They had no idea how people were feeling. Their 2008 win left them thinking an election that had been shaped by anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and pro-change feeling was really a mandate without context; they thought that in the middle of a historic recession featuring horrific deficits, they could assume support for the invention of a huge new entitlement carrying huge new costs.

The passions of the protesters, on the other hand, are not a surprise. They hired a man to represent them in Washington. They give him a big office, a huge staff and the power to tell people what to do. They give him a car and a driver, sometimes a security detail, and a special pin showing he’s a congressman. And all they ask in return is that he see to their interests and not terrify them too much. Really, that’s all people ask. Expectations are very low. What the protesters are saying is, “You are terrifying us.”

Read the whole thing.

23 Oct 2008

Me-Too Republicans Are Back

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Back in the days of Dwight Eisenhower, we had Me-Too Republicans who were simply too timid to challenge a conventional liberal orthodoxy for fear of being labeled radical. Tony Blankley finds today a new form of Me-Too Republican motivated by snobbery and misplaced loyalty to the community of fashion.

22 Jun 2008

Peggy Noonan’s Comeback

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Women’s Wear Daily profiles the Republican Party’s female Celtic bard, noting that she has recently developed a certain cross-over appeal.

Ordinarily, Noonan loves giving interviews. She particularly loves boys with political roundtables, and boys with political roundtables love her back. George Stephanopoulos, Chris Matthews and the late Tim Russert have all invited Noonan on air repeatedly, partly because she is a good counterpoint to people on the left and partly because she is reliably theatrical and can be counted on to flatter her host. Nearly any time a question is directed at her, she will turn her head slightly, look off into the distance and do what might be described as a long-studied blink, followed by the signature Noonan double-nod of agreement. It’s a dramatic gesture that says that her host is so unbelievably smart he’s caused Noonan to consider, for the first time ever, something that is, in fact, her job to consider all day long. Then comes her response, which more often than not begins with a sigh and is then followed by a Dale Carnegie-esque incantation of the host’s name. Such as, “Here’s the thing, Chris” or “I’ll tell you the truth, George.” As if Noonan and he are best, best friends and she is going to tell him (and the whole audience) a big secret. “It’s full-body communicating,” says Stephanopoulos. …

in 2005, Noonan broke with President George W. Bush’s administration over the Iraq war, among other things, and it gave her an air of cross-partisan credibility going into the current presidential season. Then, as Clinton stumbled in the Democratic primaries, Noonan found herself being embraced by an unlikely coalition of Obama supporters and disaffected Republicans to whom she was no longer a boilerplate conservative, but an iconoclast who’d turned on President Bush and been vindicated by anti-Clinton sentiment that was growing among Democrats. What’s more, being a woman gave Noonan a freedom to write critically about Clinton with little risk of being labeled sexist by the senator’s supporters.

“With Peggy Noonan, not only did I share many of her views about the election, I felt she was coming at it in a fair-minded way,” says New York Magazine columnist and Obama supporter Kurt Andersen. “It wasn’t like Bill Kristol, who you know what he’s going to say before he says it.”

“This moment was made for her,” Stephanopoulos says by phone. “She has a special feel for Hillary, though I’m sure it’s not one Clinton supporters always appreciate. And she’s had tremendous insight into what has been a troubled period for the Republican party. It gave her an opportunity to show some independence.””This moment was made for her.­­”— George StephanopoulosOr, as William Greider of the left-wing staple The Nation puts it: “She’s come face-to-face with what happened to the Republican party and acknowledged it rather than pretending it’s not so or blaming the Democrats. I think she’s terrific.”

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a sizeable chunk of the left eventually fell in love with (or at least got a crush on) Noonan

And, perhaps predictably, some of Noonan’s critics already are predicting the end of her comeback. Last week, the political blog Wonkette ran a post about her first post-primary election column, saying: “Our girlfriend Peggy Noonan has been more enjoyable than usual this year, as a tragically drawn-out Democratic primary battle provided her with endless opportunities to touch herself while Barack Obama spoke pretty things….Now, that tortured eloquence has vanished.”

Not so fast.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

15 Mar 2008

To Vote For John McCain… Alone… in the Rain?

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(* punchline to a proposed “Why does a Republican cross the street” joke. The famous Ernest Hemingway version of the “Why Does the Chicken” joke, you see, ends with: “To die… alone… in the rain.”)

Peggy Noonan thinks the two parties these days are like two very different houses:

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.

Personally, I think the cops will soon be arriving in large numbers to suppress the donnybrook going on in that nice new house, and to take a significant portion of the tenants away in paddy wagons.

We Republicans?

The base is tired. Republicans feel their own kind of unease at Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. Talk about wanting to stand athwart history yelling stop. They’re not in a mood to give money. Remember the phrase “broken glass Republicans?” The number of Republicans so offended, so wounded, actually, as citizens, by the Clinton years, that they’d crawl across broken glass to elect George Bush? They existed in 2004, too. Now a lot of them wouldn’t crawl across a plush weave carpet to vote for a Republican.

Not if he’s John McCain, we wouldn’t.

But Peggy has one crumb of good news about McCain. He likes Hemingway. A lot.

Who has he read besides Hemingway? (And he’s read him—he loves him to an almost scary degree.)

Maybe he’s not all bad, after all.

10 Mar 2007

Peggy Noonan Meditates on Transgressive Speech

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Peggy Noonan dispels all the politically correct posturing and moralizing cant with some simple wisdom.

Here is what has been said the past week or so that sparked argument: Bill Maher, on HBO, said a lot of lives would be saved if Vice President Cheney had died, and Ann Coulter, at a conservative political meeting, suggested John Edwards is a “faggot.”

She was trying to be funny and get a laugh. He was trying to startle and get applause.

What followed was the predictable kabuki in which politically active groups and individuals feigned dismay as opposed to what many of them really felt, which was grim delight. Conservatives said they were chilled by Mr. Maher’s comments, but I don’t think they were. They were delighted he revealed what they believe is at the heart of modern liberalism, which is hate.

Liberals amused themselves making believe they were chilled by Ms. Coulter’s remarks, but they were not. They were delighted she has revealed what they believe is at the heart of modern conservatism, which is hate.

The truth is many liberals were dismayed by Mr. Maher because he made them look bad, and many conservatives were mad at Ms. Coulter for the same reason…

One of the clearest statements ever about the implied limits of legitimate political discourse was made by the imprisoned Socrates in his first dialogue with Crito, when he said, “That’s not nice.” Actually, it was your grandmother who said “That’s not nice.” She’s the one who probably taught you the wince. It is her wisdom, encapsulated in those three simple words, that is missing from the current debate.

We tie ourselves in knots trying to explain why it is, or why it isn’t, always or occasionally, helpful or destructive to use various epithets, or give full voice to our resentments. But the simple wisdom of Grandma– “That’s not nice”–is a good guide. (I should say that when I was a kid, grandmas were older people who had common sense. They had observed something of people, had experienced life directly, not only through books or TV. Almost all of them had religious faith, and had absorbed the teachings of the Bible. Almost all of them sat quietly at the kitchen table, and even when I was a kid they were considered old fashioned. They were often ethnic and had accents. As a matter of fact, all of them were.)

I think that as America has grown more academic or aware of education, the wisdom of Grandma has been denigrated. Or ignored. Or stolen and dressed up as something else…

Part of the reason is that Grandma had more sway in the public sphere 50 years ago, which is to say common sense and a sense of decorum had more sway. Another part is that privately people felt they had more room to think or say whatever they wanted without being shamed or shunned. It let the steam out. We think of the 1950s as buttoned up, but in a way America had more give then. Men were understood not to be angels.

Our country now puts less of an emphasis on public decorum, courtliness, self-discipline, decency. America no longer says, “That’s not nice.” It doesn’t want to make value judgments on “good” and “bad.” We have come to rely on censorship to maintain decorum. We are very good at letting people know that if they say something we don’t like, we’ll shame them and shun them, even ruin them.

But censorship doesn’t make people improve themselves; it makes people want to rebel. It tells them to toe the line or pay a price. People who are urged in the right direction and taught in the right direction will usually try to discipline and improve themselves from within. But they do not enjoy censorship from without. They fight back. They are rude in order to show they are unbroken.

This is human. And Grandma would have understood this, too.

I think the atmosphere of political correctness is now experienced by normal people–not people who speak on TV, but normal people–as so oppressive, so demanding of constant self-policing, that when someone says something in public that is truly not nice, not nice at all, they can’t help but feel that they are witnessing a prison break.
As long as political correctness reigns, the more antic among us will try to break out with great streams of Tourette’s-like forbidden words and ideas.

We should forbid less and demand more. We should exert less pressure from without and encourage more discipline from within. We should ask people to be dignified, hope they’ll be generous, expect them to be fair. When they’re not, we should correct them. But we shouldn’t beat them to a pulp. Because that’s not nice.

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