Peggy Noonan's Confused Acquiescence

| October 31, 2008 | Reply

It has bugged me watching so many otherwise brilliant people contort their brains into pretzels in order to justify why they’re throwing Sarah Palin out of the Cool Kids’ Club. Peggy Noonan, Ken Adelman, Francis Fukayama, David Brooks, and others have decided to kick their old conservative principles to the curb and embrace the new hotness of hope and change on what appears to me nothing more than a whim and a shrug to the inevitability of history.

I wish I were kidding about their rolling over so easily. Read Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal today.

He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.


He has the “possibility” to change our foreign policy? Well, so does everyone else who’s run for President since absolutely none of them are identical to George Bush or indeed to each other. A potted fern has the possibility to change our foreign policy, but it has a greater possibility of sucking up the nutrients from that grow stick you just stuck in the dirt.

Climbed steep stairs did he? Good for him. So did John McCain. So did Sarah Palin. You can’t become a candidate for high national office in the United States without climbing some steep stairs. It comes with the territory. However, the ability to climb is not of itself something to applaud. It’s what we expect of Americans with great ambition. If you want the brass ring, you’d better pull up your britches and get to climbing because no one’s going to give it to you. Well, except that Barack’s been given quite a lot, hasn’t he? He was given a pretty spiffy launch to his political campaign by some folks who decided not to climb but to kill and destroy. His campaign coffers have grown fat his whole career thanks to underhanded, dishonest means. He’s been given nearly a complete pass by the national media. So maybe he hasn’t had to climb quite as hard at Noonan wants so badly to believe he has.

And let us examine his executive experience. Noonan is right to say that his Presidential campaign is almost all we have to examine. We could look at the only other example of his executive leadership, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, to see just what a cock-up he’d made of things there, but that would not serve Noonan’s narrative well at all. So let us look at what she’s given us. Even though Obama has spent tens of millions of dollars more than John McCain, he hasn’t once managed to sustain a level of support greater than 50 percent. He can’t open up a double-digit lead for more than a couple days. Indeed, he’s within the margin of error only a few days before the election. If he can’t turn a gigantic campaign organization and hundreds of millions of dollars into a commanding lead over a largely non-combative, establishment candidate around whose neck he’s hung all the sins of the Republican party the past eight years, then what sort of executive is he?

Ah, but he didn’t have to yell, says Noonan. He’s winning even though he’s never lost his temper. Well, if a detached demeanor is what you’re looking for, then fine. I will note that John McCain has not exactly been a campaign firebrand himself. He’s not doing a whole lot of voice-raising either. But some of us realize there is more than one explanation for someone remaining so calm. As the old, worn cubicle sign says, “If you can remain calm while everyone around you is starting to panic, then you probably don’t know what the heck is going on”. It can be a sign of command when someone stays calm in tempestuous times. It can also be a sign of cluelessness. I’d say, on the preponderance of the evidence, that Obama’s calm isn’t a sign of self-possession but that he has no real idea what’s happening in the world. How else to explain some of the ridiculous positions he’s taken, then had to reverse almost immediately, in the past year?

But more importantly, when did the ability to remain cool in the face of outrage become supremely important? I would much rather have a leader who knows the value of a well-placed tirade. I want a President who can occasionally unveil a tirade against cruelty and tyranny, against the rampant idiocy and political corruption that nearly brought disaster to our financial markets, against the Islamists who are still trying to kill us. I like a leader who is capable of righteous indignation. I believe that most Americans do, too. We don’t see calm in the face of outrageous situations as a sign of strength but of abject weakness or woeful cluelessness. Barack Obama does not rage against tyranny because he has a clever plan to destroy it but because it doesn’t fash him at all. He doesn’t inveigh against the greedy Congressmen who betrayed us for a few sweetheart loans and some campaign cash because he is quietly working against them but because he’s one of them.

The rest of Noonan’s column is equally confused. On one hand she praises Obama for his “grace” (a curious bit of praise considering that while he was extending that grace, his surrogates were doing their very best to gut Sarah Palin’s young daughter and were questioning her very motherhood with his tacit endorsement) but on the other hand, she shows great concern than a unified Federal government will bring a rush of disastrous progressive “innovations” in such quantity that they will “overwhelm” him. It seems that Noonan’s good sense had not been entirely silenced, but she does her very best to club it into unconsciousness by the end of the column where she writes:

But let’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.

A fitting end for a harem-scarem, rock-‘em-sock-‘em shakeup of a year — one of tumbling inevitabilities, torn coalitions, striking new personalities.

Eras end, and begin. “God is in charge of history.” And so my beautiful election ends.

In the end, all Peggy Noonan can come up with to justify her decision to endorse the most radically progressive President since FDR is “shit happens”. That is wisdom? That is insight? No. That is capitulation and I am quite sure that her former employer, Ronald Reagan, would not recognize her for the ninny she has become.

What bothers me most about Noonan, and those who have followed her into the hynotic embrace of the Obamessiah is not that they have pushed aside their conservative principles but that they have replaced those principles with nothing but paper-maché platitudes. They’ve exchanged strength and principle for gossamer promises of utopia that are as false as a movie sound stage. Peggy Noonan has sold her conservative birthright for a bowl of pottage and, like Esau, she blames someone else for forcing her into the choice.

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