Sunday, September 6, 2009

Noonan Sours On Obama

I've been following Peggy Noonan ever since she worked in the Reagan White House.
I've read nearly all of her books and even use one of them ("On Writing Well") for a course that I teach.
Over the past year or year-and-a-half it seemed that Noonan had been seduced by the Obama mystique.
She spoke well of him, wrote nice things about him, even suggested we were on the threshold of a bright new era. If you closed your eyes and listened to her you might have thought she was just another member of the left-of-center mainstream media.
But now things have changed.
The past several months have been an eye-opener for Noonan.
And here's what she's writing right now in the Wall Street Journal:
A . . . concern about President Obama's staffers and appointees is that so many of them are so young and relatively untried. And not only young and untried, but triumphant.
They're on top of the world. They came from nowhere and elected their guy against the odds. Against expectations, they beat a machine (the Clintons) and a behemoth (long-triumphant Republicanism).
Now nothing can stop them, Let's do big things, let's be consequential. Consequentialism has been the blight of America's political life for a decade. Because of it, America's nerves have been rubbed raw. . . .
Why be concerned about the young in the White House? Because they've never been beaten up by life, never been defeated. They haven't learned from failure because they haven't experienced it. They don't know what the warning signs of trouble are. They haven't spent time on the losing side.
Mr. Obama's young aides are hardworking, humorous and bright as pennies, but I wish they had an arthritic ache or two, I wish they told old war stories because they'd been in old wars, I wish they knew what it looks like when an administration goes too far and strains the ties between itself and the bulk of the people. . . .

Mr. Obama has grown boring. And it's not Solid Boring, which is fine in a president and may be good. It's sort of Faux Eloquent Boring, especially on health care. The president likely doesn't know this, and his people won't have told him because they don't know it either, but Mr. Obama always has the same sound, approach, logic, tone, modulation. He always has the same stance. There's no humor or humility in it. News is surprise, and he never makes news.
The past 10 months, the president has lessened and not increased the trust of the big center. He did a number of things wrong, but one has not been noticed much, or noted. He moved too quickly, before he'd earned the right to change a big chunk of American life. You earn that right by establishing trust. Absent crisis, leaders have to show, over a certain amount of time and through a series of actions, that they're sober, sound, farsighted, looking out for the middle. In addition, of course, middle America is worried about two dramas, the economy and war, and he's showing he's worried about a third drama, health care, which they've put to the side. His concerns do not coincide with theirs. Which makes him, not them, look out of touch. . . .

He is cold, like someone who is contained not because he's disciplined and successfully restrains his emotions, but because there's not that much to restrain. This is the dark side of cool. One wonders if this will play well with the American people. Long-term it is hard to get people to trust your policies if they think you're coolly operating on some intellectual or ideological abstractions.
I don't think as a presidential style it will wear well with the center.

And it may not wear well with the president's own party.
They may come to see him, in time, as not really one of them.
And that's when things will really get interesting.

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