Fantasy Land

When George W. Bush first became president, it seemed to me that Peggy Noonan was everywhere in media gushing about the wonderfulness of Dubya. “Doesn’t he look presidential?” she would swoon. Jonathan Chait wrote,

It was during the summer of 2000 that Peggy Noonan’s adoration of George W. Bush began in earnest. The GOP candidate, she wrote in her Wall Street Journal column, “seems transparently a good person, a genuine fellow who isn’t hidden or crafty or sneaky or mean, a person of appropriate modesty.” Over the next year or so, she went on to call him “respectful, moderate, commonsensical, courteous,” and “a modest man of faith.” She has seen in him “dignity” and “a kind of joshy gravitas.” And this was before September 11. Since then, he has risen in her estimation. The president has “a new weight, a new gravity, a new physical and moral comfort.” He possesses “a sharp and intelligent instinct, an inner shrewdness.” He is “emotionally and intellectually mature.”

Since I didn’t see anything the least bit presidentialish in The Creature, I assumed that what Noonan saw existed only in her imagination. Peggy is, after all, the same person whose book about Hillary Clinton was so, um, imaginative. David Brock wrote,

Delivered without the faux scholarly apparatus accompanying other Hillary Clinton attack books, much of The Case Against Hillary Clinton is literally made up. Page after page is littered with imaginary dialogue and fantasies that belong in a 50-minute session—a 17-page Hollywood speech that Mrs. Clinton never delivered, a fake interview with Tom Brokaw after she loses the Senate race, a fictional scene in which movie producer Harvey Weinstein disrespectfully lights a cigarette in the First Lady’s face, a moment when it dawns on Hillary as she flies into LaGuardia that she looks like the Statue of Liberty, a conversation between James Carville and Harold Ickes at Mrs. Clinton’s graveside, even a passage where Noonan channels Eleanor Roosevelt to tell us what she would say about Hillary Clinton: “One senses there is something strange there.”

Well, yes, there is something very — nay, exceedingly — strange there. And that something is Peggy Noonan’s head.

In the early parts of the Bush Administration — both before and after 9/11 — right-wing pundits were tripping over themselves in their rush to microphones to praise the virtues and general wonderfulness of George W. Bush, and it was a spectacle both strange and terrible to behold. Because if you had your head screwed on straight you knew good and well Bush was nowhere near the person they said he was. I actually called this phenomenon “Peggy Noonan syndrome.”

But apparently George Bush’s speeches and behavior became so outrageous it broke through the thick fog of Noonan’s fantasies and projections. Now she writes,

The beginning of my own sense of separation from the Bush administration came in January 2005, when the president declared that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation. This was at once so utopian and so aggressive that it shocked me. For others the beginning of distance might have been Katrina and the incompetence it revealed, or the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq.

But he was saying crap like this since right after 9/11. For example, on Friday, September 14, George Bush spoke at a prayer service at the National Cathedral:

Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

And rid the world of evil. Just like that. Y’know, we’ve tolerated this evil thing far too long. It’s time we did something about it.

(Note to future generations of Americans, if there are any: If your leaders ever start to talk about ridding the world of evil, revolt immediately.)

What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom–a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don’t need hacks.

Kinda takes your breath away, don’t it?

Anyway, what set Noonan off today is that persons in the Bush Administration engaged in the usual straw-man demonizations of their critics. But this time the critics were not us liberal loonies, but conservatives opposed to his immigration policy.

The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic–they “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, “We’re gonna tell the bigots to shut up.” On Fox last weekend he vowed to “push back.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want “mass deportation.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are “anti-immigrant” and suggested they suffer from “rage” and “national chauvinism.”

Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens?

You tell us, Peggy. They’ve been doing this since Day One. Odd that you would have just now noticed it.

Chait wrote in the 2002 article linked above

The hallmarks of the hero-worship style are a Manichaean moral sensibility, eloquent prose, and assertion rather than argument. This might seem like a harmless, even refreshing, counterpoint to the politics of personal destruction, which both parties now disdain as mindlessly partisan and corrosive to civic health. But Peggy Noonan’s glorification of George W. Bush isn’t a departure from the politics of personal destruction at all. It’s the very same thing. …

… The problem with Noonan’s brand of hero-worship isn’t that character doesn’t matter. Reasonable people can disagree about the proper weight to place on personal virtue versus ideology in evaluating a politician. But for Noonan and her ilk, conservative ideology and personal virtue are so deeply intertwined that it is virtually impossible for a good person to pursue liberal policies or for a conservative politician to be morally flawed.

Her dislike of Hillary Clinton was so profound that Noonan filled most of a book with her own fantasies about Hillary Clinton’s private behaviors and thoughts and offered that as proof of what an awful person Hillary Clinton is. She did the same thing with Gen. Wesley Clark, dismissing him as a “nut.” For people like Peggy, it’s not enough to disagree with someone’s opinions. A person who does not share her point of view must be depraved.

Anyway, what’s amusing about all this is that, even as she calls for “wisdom,” Peggy and some of her cronies have found another screen on which to project their hopes: Fred Thompson. Go read this gush-a-thon over Thompson from just two weeks ago (via No More Mister Nice Blog). Peggy’s falling in love with another bad boy again, I fear.