Peggy Noonan is a great ally and a doubtful foe. She turned, mildly, on Reagan. She has turned on Bush. So what. Her human insights are wonderful, her writing , usually, excellent. She is setting up her pick for 2008 awkwardly.
Bush supporters and detractors, alike, have made much of Ms. Noonan’s Friday Opinion Journal column about President Bush. As a fan Peggy’s, I was disappointed. One of the hallmarks of conservatism—something that should distinguish us from them—is that we don’t eat our own in public.
Look back to 1987. Peggy Noonan had just left the Reagan White House where served with distinction as Mr. Reagan’s chief speech writer. After her departure, she became the darling of the anti-Reagan sewers of national media. She seemed, at the time, to enjoy her new role.
While Ms. Noonan avoided direct criticism of Reagan, she didn’t exactly defend him. She’d titter at Cokie Roberts’s hint that Reagan nearly gave over the country to Gorby at Reykjavík. But years later, Ms. Noonan as back in the Reagan camp. He changed her life, she says.
From 9/11/2001 until approximately last Friday, Ms. Noonan was one of Mr. Bush’s loudest cheerleaders. Then she changed. And, the gifted writer she is, she changed in a way that gives me great confliction. I love her writing; I honor and respect our current President.
With Mr. Bush it is the people who are forced to be cool-eyed and realistic. He’s the one who goes off on the toots. This is extremely irritating, and also unnatural. Actually it’s weird. (source)
I can’t be too upset with Peggy for a couple of reasons. Number one, Bush is the worst public relations President since Nixon. He has no ear for the popular. (Then again, Oscar Wilde said, “Everything popular is wrong.") Number two, people said the same thing about Reagan.
At a comedy club in Charleston, South Carolina (my adopted hometown), a comedian in 1987 said, “Ronald Reagan: a man who remembers the future and dreams the past.” (The guy was really funny, though; don’t get me wrong.) As if Ms. Noonan were channeling the guy:
I suspect people pick up with Mr. Bush the sense that part of his drama, part of the story of his presidency, is that he gets to be the romantic about history, and the American people get to be the realists. Of the two, the latter is not the more enjoyable role.
Same sentiment as the comedian about Reagan, but Ms. Noonan used more words.
I think Ms. Noonan’s short and unedited piece is more about 2008 than about Bush. She’s setting up the anti-Bush: a Republic who captures the Reagan spirit. Probably Fred Thompson. Her method is ugly and unprofessional. Certainly unConservative. She’s violated the 11th Commandment.
During the 2004 election, Richard Brookhiser, writing extemporaneously on National Review’s The Corner, mentioned that Bush would be re-elect, and his second term would be pathetic “as all second terms are.” At the time, I thought Brookhiser hyperbolic. He was right.
The last two years of eight-year presidencies are historically difficult, particularly after a loss in the final midterm elections. Eisenhower in 1959-60 assumed a more aggressive conservative posture by firing off multiple vetoes of excessive spending legislation. During the Iran-contra scandal, Ronald Reagan in 1987-88 was steadfast in pursuing Cold War victory. But the way George W. Bush handled Rumsfeld was not a good sign for his concluding years as president Robert Novak (H/T Daniel Larison on Eunomia)
So Mr. Bush’s second term is tougher even than his first. In his first term, he recovered the economy form a recession handed over by his predecessor and exacerbated by the greatest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Yes, Peggy, his political instincts suck. His public relations people, when enjoying a day without chemotherapy, do a poor job, as does he, at selling his ideas and ideals. But he is President and we are at war. So he doesn’t scowl enough? He doesn’t yell and rant? Too frickin bad. He has a terrible job, and people who advocate for the victory of terrorists in Iraq over their neighbors' kids only make the job—and our country–more difficult.
Neither Ms. Noonan nor Mr. Bush deserves the scorn they receive.