Noonan Now and Then
To a post on Peggy Noonan’s latest column, Glenn Reynolds appends a reader’s observation that Ms. Noonan should take some responsibility for helping her man, Mr. Obama, gain office. Indeed, a contrast of Noonan a year ago and now is instructive. October 30, 2008:
The case for Barack Obama, in broad strokes:
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.
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.
Or maybe they don’t think America should be so strong — so exceptional. They believe that they should be strong and exceptional, of course, in the mold of their icon — the steady he of guts and gifts — and that they should be above responsibility for their corruption and excesses. And maybe Ms. Noonan should pause before calling them “they.”
Last year, Noonan reveled in the symbolism of Obama’s primary victory in Alabama, as we all should, as an isolated instance of racial progress outside of broader context. But it’s not divorced from the context of all of the rest of history — which, pace the liberal arts academics, doesn’t revolve around the American black-white divide — and symbolism only goes so far for the bright and serious people for whom Noonan pines.