“Washington is full of people who insist they’re in control and who go to great lengths to display their power. It’s that no one takes responsibility and authority. Washington daily delivers to the people two stark and utterly conflicting messages: ‘We control everything’ and ‘You’re on your own.'”
This graphic by Chad Crowe comes from Peggy Noonan’s May 1 WSJ column “The Big Alienation.” Noonan is an author and political writer who served as speechwriter and Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. She later worked briefly for Bush 1. Here are some phrases you might know her by: “a kinder, gentler nation” and “a thousand points of light.” Yeah, that was her. She also wrote “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Bush 1 might have had a second term if he hadn’t chosen to wipe his ass on that pledge. But probably not. He didn’t seem to want that second term very badly, appearing tired, vacuous, and even disoriented at times during the campaign that resulted in the election of Bubba. Clinton rubbed GHWB’s face in that broken tax promise every day, used it to grind him into dust. Such is the power of a good catchphrase; it can make you, it can break you. She also ripped Sarah Palin a new one, remarking that Palin’s candidacy signified a “vulgarization in American Politics” that was not good for America or for conservatives. At that point, I was pretty much finished with her (Peggy, not Sarah. Still thinking about Sarah.) Having expunged, via these remarks and others like them, any lingering doubt that she considers government to be the business of a ruling class, Noonan’s lofty (often beautiful) phrases ceased to move me.
But she’s sixty now. Maybe she’s experiencing a late-life moment of clarity. I can personally attest that a window of crystal vision often opens later in life, a waxing brightness in which the abject silliness of youth’s gushing idealism is exposed and the world revealed as the simple organism that it is, and always has been. You smack your forehead and say “What the fuck was I thinking?” The tone of her column hints that she finally feels the ground moving beneath her feet. She correctly observes:
Ya’ think, Margaret? Welcome to the party. Maybe you need to get out of that New York-Washington ellipsis once in awhile. And I don’t mean flying to Paris, London, or Hollywood to clink crystal that costs as much as a small car with people just like you, either. Maybe you need to drive (yeah, most of us really do that for ourselves out here) cross-country. Spend a week or two visiting with people like me in Utah, or just plain folks in small and medium-sized towns and cities anywhere in flyover country. Or maybe ask Sarah if you can hang out with her and her family for a few days, how would that be, to actually experience something instead of casting down slings and arrows, haughty lightning bolts from your New York sinecure? There’s more to America than you can see from your foppish eastern redoubt, Peggy. Get the snob-stink off you, come out and get some fresh air.
What Noonan is just now sensing is old hat to anyone with two feet on the ground. But at least she’s starting to get it.
I included the graphic from her column because I’ve been saying for years that a deep smoking hole bounded by the Capitol Beltway would be the best, the real, and perhaps the only way to address the entropic descent of our politics from “government of the people, by the people, for the people” to authoritarian, anti-constitutional, autocratic rule by venal and venomous crawly things found in the halls of modern American government.
“But while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about the well-being of the Republicans, who worries about America? No one. Which the American people have noticed, and which adds to the dangerous alienation—actually it’s at the heart of the alienation—of the age.”
Belatedly, maybe. But she’s paying attention now. And like the OLD Peggy Noonan, the one who so beautifully milled President Reagan’s thoughts and philosophies into language, she politely takes note of what I’ve been saying in my own coarse way for a long time:
“The American people fear they are losing their place and authority in the daily, unwinding drama of American history. They feel increasingly alienated from their government. And alienation, again, is often followed by deep animosity, and animosity by the breaking up of things.”
Peggy’s still a step behind, I think. From where I sit, we are in the “deep animosity” stage of her progression.