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January 21, 2005

Did you feel that punditquake?

Freuqent readers will know well my distaste for Peggy Noonan, the washed-up Reagan speechwriter the other Reagan speechwriters love to hate. So it is with shock and no small measure of glee that I read Noonan's rather shrill attack on W's inaugural address. Under the headline (are you ready for this?) "Way too much God," Noonan makes the following sensible observations:

A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president's evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.

No one will remember what the president said about domestic policy, which was the subject of the last third of the text. This may prove to have been a miscalculation.

It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.

Mon dieu! One assumes she wants the President to serve up said nuance with a drippy tranche of Camembert! Does she think he's French or something? She goes on to bash the music as "modern megachurch hymns, music that sounds like what they'd use for the quiet middle section of a Pixar animated film . . . lame." Uh-oh, this sounds like Peggy (who, as a rags-to-riches graduate of Farleigh Dickinson University, isn't exactly a standard issue blueblood) sounding the strains of WASPy disapproval of Bush's tacky Texas born-againness. If the message-toting mandarins of the right are going to start going after Bush on questions of taste, it's going to be an enjoyable four years after all!

She ends, amazingly, with this:

And yet such promising moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

This is--how else to put it?--over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.

She totally sounds like a member of the reality-based community... which is a bummer, because I'm really not sure we want her in our club. On the other hand, if she keeps throwing phrases like "mission inebration" around the troglodytic halls of the WSJ's editorial page we might have to make room for her.

On the other hand, Tbogg might be right in his "Shorter Peggy Noonan" post this morning: "And I remember thinking: This speech would have been better if I had written it."

Posted by jay at January 21, 2005 10:51 AM | TrackBack
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