Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Peggy Janet Noonan Daley Day
. . . In which I catch up with two of my favorite female columnists.
I've been so busy lately that I haven't blogged much, but it's worse than that. I've fallen behind in my usual reading, too.
For example, in a normal week -- what used to be a normal week -- I would make a point to read whatever Peggy Noonan had written lately, even if it hadn't popped up at one of the sites I usually peruse. I don't always agree with her or find her persuasive, but she thinks well and writes well, and I'm always glad to read what she writes. I think I once declared a Peggy Noonan Day here at the blog. Now, however, I find myself checking in only every three or four weeks -- because I have the same enthusiasm, but less time.
In recent months I've also mentioned favorably an American expatriate named Janet Daley, who writes in The Telegraph, on yonder side of the Atlantic. She's been vying for inclusion in Peggy Noonan's elite league, and I've been giving her the same sort of reading -- consistent, appreciative, but too infrequent.
Lately I've caught up with both of these writers, and it is a fruitful experience. I therefore declare this to be Peggy Janet Noonan Daley Day here at the blog. (Janet Peggy Daley Noonan Day seems less euphonious.) Here are highlights, spanning from August to October. Please note that, where I include an excerpt, it may not do justice to the full essay, which you should read.
In the aftermath of Britain's summer riots and a subsequent public opinion poll, Daley opined:
An opinion poll for The Guardian shows a stunningly high majority in favour of tougher sentences for those convicted in the riots than would ordinarily be handed down for comparable offences. . . .
What this survey shows is that the population has a profound appreciation of why it is actually more culpable to steal a pair of trainers or a plasma television as part of an anarchic, vicious mob than as a single opportunist shoplifter. Taking part in what was a concerted act of anti-social violence in which property was set ablaze and lives indiscriminately threatened was a far more serious offence than an individual theft.
Noonan praised President Obama's recent speech at the United Nations and called Rick Perry "a cheap, base-playing buffoon" for his simultaneous diatribe on the same subject. But first she writes of Obama's economic policy:
In writing about the White House or Congress, I always feel completely free to attempt to see things clearly, to consider the evidence, to sift it through experience and knowledge, and then to make a judgment. It may be highly critical, or caustic, even damning. But deep down I always hope I'm wrong -- that it isn't as bad as I say it is, that there is information unknown to me that would explain such and such an act, that there were factors I didn't know of that make bad decisions suddenly explicable. Or even justifiable.
I note this to make clear the particular importance, for me, of Ron Suskind's book on the creation of President Obama's economic policy, "Confidence Men." If Mr. Suskind is right, I have been wrong in my critiques of the president's economic policy. None of it was as bad as I said. It was much worse.
Drawing essential parallels between Europe and the United States, Daley wrote this in August, on the heels of the American debt ceiling debate:
The truly fundamental question that is at the heart of the disaster toward which we are racing is being debated only in America: is it possible for a free market economy to support a democratic socialist society? . . .
Contrary to what the Obama Democrats claimed, the face-off in Congress did not mean that the nation's politics were "dysfunctional". The politics of the US were functioning precisely as the Founding Fathers intended: the legislature was acting as a check on the power of the executive.
The Tea Party faction within the Republican party was demanding that, before any further steps were taken, there must be a debate about where all this was going. They had seen the future toward which they were being pushed, and it didn't work.
Earlier in October Noonan saw a new and untapped patriotism in the country, against a backdrop of grave, almost universal concern -- and the folly of presidents and candidates seeking a political narrative, a story, instead of trying to lead in reality.
Daley's October musings include wondering whether "being slightly poorer might actually enrich our lives." She's not anti-capitalist, crony-capitalist, or socialist in any degree. She's just thinking interesting thoughts, and wondering if all that stuff sometimes just gets in the way.
Noonan surveys the political landscape astutely. Maybe the crucial phrase here is "not in Washington and not part of the political matrix."
What I'm seeing is a new convergence of thought among Democrats and Republicans who are not in Washington and not part of the political matrix. They are in new agreement about our essential problems and priorities: that the economy comes first, all other crises (in foreign affairs, in our culture) come second, because they cannot be helped without an economy that is healthy and growing. They all agree -- no one really argues about this any more -- the government is going bankrupt. They all agree the entitlement system has to be reformed. Heck, they all respect Paul Ryan, for his seriousness. They all want grown-ups to come forward with ideas that maybe each party wouldn't love but that might do the country some good.
That is what I see in every business and professional meeting, in conversations with Democrats and Republicans: a new convergence of thought among the thoughtful.
Which makes this a promising moment. For once everyone knows what time it is.
Calling attention to New York City's (mostly Rudy Giuliani's) approach to crime as a model for her adopted country, Daley wrote:
After so many years of spectacularly successful "zero tolerance" policing, prisoner numbers in New York State have actually fallen. After peaking in 1999 as the policy's effects came into their own, the numbers began to drop until they are now down by roughly a fifth. In other words, this policing strategy did exactly what it was intended to do: it acted as a deterrent to committing crimes.
If you worried that Noonan was going all mushy and moderate in that last piece, take comfort from her look at the Republican presidential field and her thoughts on the irrelevance and inadequacy both of the president and of the candidates' debates. Her title: "This Is No Time for Moderation."
Daley's writing about domestic British politics doesn't always interest me much, but some of what she writes is as relevant to us as it is to Britain or Europe. For example, writing in September of the European Union ("federal project") and its growing tempests, Daley observed:
It seems that the European political class still thinks that an assertion of its mystical belief can alter reality: that what it insists is so, will be so. If its idea of itself and its design for the future are in conflict with the facts of economics or life as it is actually lived, then it is those facts that will give way. . . . This is where we are: up against the unavoidable contradiction of the European federal project. The complaint that the EU is lacking in strong political leadership is misconceived: it has had altogether too much "leadership" -- which is to say, domination from political and bureaucratic authorities determined to lead with as little interference from real people as possible.
Both on September 11
As it happens, Peggy Noonan and Janet Daley wrote two of my favorite essays on the occasion of September 11's tenth anniversary. I've already mentioned them here at the blog, but they re-read very well. (I know. I just re-read them.)
Since I had spent virtually my entire adult life here and taken British nationality, I generally referred to myself as an American-born Briton. (For complex personal reasons, I did not even visit the land of my birth for more than 30 years after leaving it.) September 11 made a bonfire of that little vanity. From that day, I became an American who lives in Britain.
But it was not just the terrorist attack that had produced this resurgence of loyalty to the United States. It was the grotesque fusillade of anti-Americanism that burst immediately -- and I mean immediately -- onto the British scene in its wake.
They tell us to get over it, they say to move on, and they mean it well: We can't bring an air of tragedy into the future. But I will never get over it. To get over it is to get over the guy who stayed behind on a high floor with his friend who was in a wheelchair. To get over it is to get over the woman by herself with the sign in the darkness: "America You Are Not Alone." To get over it is to get over the guys who ran into the fire and not away from the fire.
You've got to be loyal to pain sometimes to be loyal to the glory that came out of it.
Finally, Noonan (Because It's Still Her League)
Peggy Noonan's latest offering declared that the Republican presidential debates have so far been an unexpected success. I'll leave to you figure out whether this means she changed her mind somewhat after the previous week's column, mentioned above. She mentions President Obama and Occupy Wall Street along the way, too, contrasting the latter to the Tea Party. Here are some good lines, not consecutive:
In the end, Tuesday night's debate was a real plus for the GOP. All the Republican debates have been, because they've made the Republicans look like the alive party. There's been jousting and predictable disagreement, but there has also been substance.
I've never seen TV debates play such a prominent role in a nominating process. The reasons people are watching are obvious: They're deeply concerned about America's future. They're shopping for a new president, and TV is an easy way to judge the merchandise. It's live, so that if something dramatic happens -- some flub, some breakthrough -- it won't be removed in the editing.
Sorry to do archetypes, but a nation in trouble probably wants a fatherly, or motherly, figure at the top. What America has right now is a bright, lost older brother. It misses Dad. Mr. Romney's added value is his persona. He's a little like the father in one of those 1950s or '60s sitcoms
The Republican Party is going to make Mitt Romney work for it. They're going to make him earn it. They're going to make him suffer. Because that's what Republicans do.
The difference between the occupiers and the tea party is the difference between acting out and taking part.
Maybe Janet Daley is in Peggy Noonan's league, or nearly so. But it's still Peggy Noonan's league.
Coming Soon (Really!)
Those of you who are concerned with gender equity may be troubled that I haven't recently declared "[insert the name of a male columnist here] Day." I hear you, and I am even now assembling a few recent gems from some writers who appear in their pictures to be men.
Copyright 2011 by David Rodeback.
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