A Quintessential Peggy Noonan Column

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

I saw some chatter on Twitter this morning about how we all "Must Read" Peggy Noonan's newest Wall Street Journal column. So I read it, and I'll concur that you probably should as well, because it stands out as an archetypal example of Noonan's hopelessly vacant breed of analysis.

Here's the Peggy Noonan method for column-writing: 1) seize on trite observation about modern politics, present it as your devilishly original thesis; 2) lard out that unremarkable premise with prose that is overwrought, repetitive, or both; 3) think about what a comically out-of-touch pundit wants, ascribe that want to the "the people," sprinkle throughout; 4) go on Morning Joe.

Let's start with the premise: "Romney can win, but he needs more than applause lines." Of course he can win; he's one of the two major party candidates. She's also correct that a candidate for president needs to offer specifics that move beyond the canned laugh lines from the stump. All of this is glaringly obvious.

What does she bring to bear in support of her hackneyed premise? Flowery prose and deep, deep thoughts from a person thoroughly mired in the Beltway insider mentality:

They see Mr. Obama as surrounded by bad indicators--bad polls, bad economic numbers, scandals. They see a grubbiness in the administration now, a vacuity. When the White House sends out spokesmen to make the case for him on the Sunday morning shows, it's campaign operatives, like David Plouffe and David Axelrod. They more or less spin how he'll win. Where are the heavyweights, the cabinet secretaries, the great men and women of the Democratic Party? Hiding? Unable to make the case? Not trusted to make the case? Or are the political guys the only heavyweights in the administration?

I'm not sure I see the problem with sending "campaign operatives" out to "make the case" for the president, given that that's their job. And I love Noonan's inability to see beyond the Sunday show guest list as an indicator of effectiveness. If someone's not sitting down with David Gregory, they may as well not exist, right? Also, she's wrong about cabinet secretaries not sitting for Sunday interviews: in the last two months both Timothy Geithner and Leon Panetta have appeared on ABC's This Week.

And what of the "great men and women of the Democratic Party" who are apparently "hiding?" I don't know who meets Noonan's threshold for greatness, but Bill Clinton and Caroline Kennedy are out there campaigning for Obama. Gov. Deval Patrick, too -- on two Sunday shows even! And Gov. Martin O'Malley, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, was on Meet the Press last month stumping for the president.

But enough uninformed Obama-bashing. This is a column about Mitt Romney, after all, and what he can do to win the presidency:

With just more than 130 days to go, Mr. Romney has to start pulling from his brain and soul a coherent and graspable sense of the meaning of his run. "I will be president for this reason and this. I will move for this and this. The philosophy that impels me consists of these things." Only when he does this will he show that he actually does have a larger purpose, and only then will people really turn toward him. He has to tell Americans why they can believe him, why a nation saturated with politics, chronically disappointed by its leaders, and tired of promises can, actually, put some faith in him.

So only by showing his larger purpose can Mitt Romney show that he has a larger purpose. Does Noonan have any sense of what this purpose is or should be? Nope, she just knows that the people want Romney to say something -- something serious, something with meaning, something with purpose, so they can believe in him, so they can have faith in him, so they can turn to him, so they can [insert synonym for "believe"] in him. And when he does say it, he'll have to do it on a Sunday show or no one will see it.

That's enough nonspecific advice for how Romney can connect with the voters in Peggy Noonan's mind. Let's get back to whacking the president:

As for the president, his big campaign speech last week in Cleveland not only was roundly panned but was deeply revealing. In it -- all 54 minutes of it -- he attempted to make the case for his economic stewardship and his re-election.

What he revealed is that he doesn't know the case for his own re-election.

Politicians give 54-minute speeches when they don't know what they're trying to say but are sure the next sentence will tell them. So they keep talking. They keep saying sentences in the hope that meaning will finally emerge from one of them.

So Noonan's point is that Obama just keeps saying sentences under the presumption that the next one will provide meaning. And she just kept writing that same sentence over and again, presumably to provide meaning and/or irony, but probably because she's paid by the word. And just in case her first declaration that Obama "revealed...that he doesn't know the case for his own re-election" wasn't clear enough, meaning-wise, she wrote it again a few paragraphs later: "What does it say of a crisis presidency at a dramatic moment that a president can't make the case for his own re-election, can't find his own meaning?"

Pretty much every Peggy Noonan column reads like this: dull conventional wisdom that's been stretched out to column length and run through the thesaurus a few times. And this, apparently, is what makes a "must read" column these days.

Posted In
Wall Street Journal
Peggy Noonan
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