Peggy Noonan, one of my favorite friends, really has it in for Sarah Palin. In her latest sortie Peggy rightly unloads on the infantilization of political discourse, which has rendered political campaigns mind-numbing for the most part. Fair enough. I would have thought it logical to continue by looking for the causes of this depressing development (maybe a few thoughts on the disaster that “higher education” has become? Maybe a few words about what television has done to our ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time? Maybe even a few harsh words about bloggers who are always in a hurry to tell everyone what they think about everything?), but no, it’s just a springboard for a tirade against just one of the four candidates:
…we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.
But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.
I don’t get it. First you decry the infantilization of political campaigns, and then you single out one of those caught up in this mess for…behaving the same way as the other three.
I especially don’t get it because Gov. Palin is importantly different from the other three, because she’s actually governed, and has had to make executive decisions. The others are Senators, and have spent their professional years doing what Senators mainly do: giving speeches. Gov. Palin has a real track record, she’s done real things, and it doesn’t seem all that tough to figure out what and who she is, in contrast with the others.
Peggy compares Palin with Truman, saying that Truman was a little guy who miraculously proved to be a great president. True. But none of us would have been able to see that from his Senate speeches or his campaign rhetoric. We only saw it after he became president, and even then it took the world a very very long time to figure it out. As I recall, he left office with dismal approval ratings, and most of the oracles of the time proclaimed him a disaster (Eisenhower was elected by running against the Korean War, which was blamed on Truman, right?).
I’ve said before that it’s hard for intellectuals to understand frontierspeople, and I still think so. I think Peggy is totally right about political discourse, but I think she’s unfair and inconsistant to single out Palin on the very grounds Peggy’s identified as a defining characteristic of the entire electoral process.
Finally, I hope and expect that Gov. Palin will be an important voice in our future, and I think that’s a very good thing.