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High Noonan
July 17, 2001
by birdman

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 adoration:

"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 to be.

"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.


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