The Ultimate Peggy Noonan Column

Most political junkies have some celebrity pundit that drives them particularly crazy. Often it’s not the one you disagree with most, but the one who exemplifies the characteristic sins of your ideological opponents and of the punditry profession itself.

For me, that pundit is Peggy Noonan, who regularly phones in olympian observations for a Wall Street Journal column, and appears on television shows often enough that I try to avoid them all.

Now I will admit right off the bat that I was prejudiced against Noonan from virtually the first time I heard of her, because she single-handedly invented a previously unknown and unimaginable character: the celebrity speechwriter. Perhaps it was just jealousy on my part, as one of the countless scribes who had toiled in anonymity at this typically thankless and poorly remunerated task. But I always thought Noonan was a little too eager to push herself into the spotlight with her famous bosses, from Dan Rather to George H.W. Bush, before semi-retiring into punditry.

At any rate, Noonan’s columns are notable for their lofty elitism, their wandering thematics, and above all, for the immaculate self-confidence with which she says really dumb things. By all three measurements, today’s Noonan column reaches new lows. This is Platonic Ideal of the Noonan column.

It’s really three remotely connected columns. The first offers a pretty conventional take on the GOP nominating battle, but presented as a choice of personality types rather than the stew of belief-systems, issue-positions, constituencies and donor-interests candidates actually represent.

Mitt Romney’s aides are making the classic mistake of thinking the voters want maturity, serenity and a jolly spirit. What they want is a man who knows what time it is, who has a passion to reform our country, and who yet holds these qualities within a temperament that is mature, serene and jolly.

It’s classic Noonan to speak for “the voters” and for America, BTW. You can’t go too far wrong just regularly translating “they” into “I.”

The second sub-column begins as a meditation on low turnout in the GOP primaries, but quickly turns into mush. She very briefly considers the possibility that there is something about the current Republican presidential field that could be an issue, but then Obama’s SOTU ratings keep dropping (as do all presidents’ over time), and the NFL’s more popular than ever, and Americans (or is that Noonan?) just seem bored with politics, so who the hell knows?

Without even the vaguest pretense of a transition, Peggy the Bored suddenly turns into Peggy the Catholic Culture-Warrior in the third sub-column, an exhortation to the Bishops and their political allies to hang tough against the hateful haters of the White House. Suddenly the detachment is gone, but not the tendency to project her own prejudices onto others without a moment’s self-doubt:

The church must be resolute and press harder. Now is the time to keep pounding—from the pulpit, in all Catholic publications and media, in statements and meetings. For how long? As long as it takes. The president and the more radical part of his base clearly thought the church was a paper tiger, a hollow shell, an entity demoralized and finished by the scandals of the past 20 years.

She ends a million miles away from her beginning, with a cheerleader’s chant: “You can win. Keep the faith. Literally: Keep it.”

So writes one of the most renowned political wordsmiths of my generation.

Jesus wept. Literally.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.