July 17, 2001
Peggy Noonan once had an enormously successful career as
a speechwriter. During the Reagan and first Bush administrations
she was known for her broad compelling words that could make
a effective communicator like Reagan sound eloquent and a
poor speaker like Bush the elder sound, well, passable. Unfortunately
the kind of phrases that made Peggy a good speechwriter also
make her the worst journalist in America.
The problem with Noonan is that she's still writing for Catholic
School where unquestioning loyalty to the Church's principles
were more important than style or substance. When stuck, give
them some party line platitudes; it always works. It always
worked for me.
"My generation, faced as it grew with a choice between
religious belief and existential despair, chose marijuana.
Now we are in our Cabernet stage" - Peggy, talkin'
'bout her generation.
Noonan is on the Advisory Board of Crisis Magazine, a publication
that caters to Catholics who long for the old authoritarian
my-way-or-the-highway Church, the kind who feel that the Church
has kind of gone soft since they closed down the Inquisition.
It is this mindset that creates Noonan’s blinders-on devotion
to her right-wing idols. It is also why she so often expresses
that devotion in the manner of a gushing, hero-worshiping
teenage Catholic school girl. Last year on MSNBC when shown
a brief film clip of Ronald Reagan giving a speech Noonan
actually let out a gasp, clutched her chest and moaned "Be
still my heart!"
When old five-to-four came back from his Europe trip as the
first American President to be derided, laughed at and mooned
by America's European allies the Bushies needed to spruce
up the image and put in a call for Sister Peggy.
The Bushies had Karen Hughes sitting in. They're not going
to let Bush go one-on-one even with a flunky like Noonan for
fear that he might commit another mind-numbing gaffe like
promising to fight a war over Taiwan as he did on Good Morning
America earlier in the year. The staff needn’t have worried.
Peggy actually typed out the following masterpiece of unquestioning
"He was tanned, and is clearly still exercising.
He wore a blue pin-striped suit, white shirt and blue tie,
sat in the chair he uses for photo-ops when dignitaries visit,
and surveyed the bright room before him."
Ugh. Monica had a more realistic view of Bill. You get the
impression of Noonan panting at the thought of the big guys
muscles rippling under that flimsy white shirt. One wonders
what Noonan would have written if Bush hadn't made an international
fool of himself by saying he had gazed into Putin's soul.
Noonan's religious devotion to the conservative cause distorts
her view of the events she’s covering. Almost all observers
thought that Al Gore's acceptance speech at last years Democratic
convention rejuvenated his campaign but not our Peggy. She
snarled with contempt for it calling it "a rhetorical
failure and, in my view, a strategic blunder of significant
proportions." She was about the only one who thought
Rick Lazio performed well in his first debate with Hillary
Clinton (remember his disastrous trip across the stage in
an attempt to get Mrs. Clinton to sign a soft-money pledge).
Peggy’s most mind boggling trip into the rhetorical stratosphere,
however, occurred last year during the Elian Gonzalez controversy.
Comparing the vision of the evil Clinton with that of the
sainted Ronald Reagan Peggy invoked the miracle of the dolphins.
She wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
"Mr. Reagan would not have dismissed the story of the
dolphins as Christian kitsch, but seen it as possible evidence
of the reasonable assumption that God's creatures had been
commanded to protect one of God's children."
What the hell? This might sound okay from a preacher (well,
maybe) but it brought on howls of laughter from other journalists.
I suppose Noonan thinks that God and his dolphins were enjoying
a coffee break when Elians mother and the rest of the people
on the raft slipped into the dark and murky where Gods sharks
needed no commandments to know what their next move was going
"You don't have to be old in America to say of a
world you lived in: That world is gone." - Peggy,
pining for the past.
Pre-1970's Catholic America was a unique experience, an insular
society where you didn't go to school with those from other
religions and usually didn't even go to high with those of
the opposite sex (can't have them thinking about you-know-what).
And it was all overseen by the ominous, unassailable figures
in black robes. Peggy lived in that world. But so did Anna
Quindlen and Phil Donahue (and so did I). Peggy is the only
one of those still there. And Peggy's right.
That world is gone.