Obama Disappoints Noonan

Big national events apparently aren’t complete until Peggy Noonan pontificates about them–particularly if they involve The Presidency, the institution she invariably presumes to be protecting because Ronald Reagan–ah! the very heavens hum with the celestial pleasure of the angels at his very name!–once occupied it.

Nothing if not acutely aware of her pontifical status, Noonan weighs in soggily this week with a rather bent assessment of the second presidential debate, and then a condemnation of Barack Obama’s unseemly descent into the grubby political work of criticizing his opponent:

At some point after the Hofstra debate, we are going to find out whether a certain part of the old school American political style is now officially gone, or whether Mr. Obama, in ignoring it, paid a certain price….

This was the president of the United States standing with the other major party’s presidential candidate and saying things that were harsh and personal—you’re selfish and greedy, you care for nothing but yourself, you have no sense of responsibility to others. Later Mr. Obama called Mr. Romney “a good man” who “loves his family,” but it sounded pro forma and hollow because it was. He does not think Mr. Romney is a good man: He’d started the evening telling us at some length that he was a bad one.

What the president said at the debate was nothing he hadn’t said on the trail. His campaign has been personal, accusatory and manipulative. But there in the room on a tiny stage, for a sitting president to come out with that kind of put-down—I couldn’t imagine a JFK doing it, with his cool, or a Jerry Ford with his Midwestern decency, or a Reagan, or the Bushes.

You will notice Peggy has to go back more than a half-century to identify a Democrat who was apparently worthy of the presidency. I don’t believe any of the “gracious” debaters she touted faced an opponent that had spent the better part of five years relentlessly prevaricating about his policies, agenda and core convictions, and leading a party whose activists and leaders alike have regularly and at screaming levels of volume called the incumbent a traitor, an alien, a Marxist, a baby-killer, a granny-killer, a Christ-killer, and the greatest threat to America since at least World War II. And when Obama turned the other cheek in the first debate, did he get any credit from the Peggy Noonans of the world for being “presidential?” Of course not. He was “weak” and “disengaged” and “dispirited,” all but begging to be expelled from office.

But the even more hilarious–and with Noonan, there’s almost always this point where your dropped jaw seeks further room to drop–bit was when Peggy climbs down from the Olympian heights of presidential grace and gravitas and offers this shrewd précis of the real center of the debate:

The heart of the debate? Romney and the price of gas: “The proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you’re paying at the pump. If you’re paying less than you paid a year or two ago, why, then, the strategy is working. But you’re paying more. When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about $1.86 a gallon. Now, it’s $4 a gallon. The price of electricity is up. If the president’s energy policies are working, you’re going to see the cost of energy come down.”

Yeah, that was pure genius, Peggy, the kind of penetrating analysis that made Mitt Romney so rich at Bain Capital. And I’m impressed that you think the majestic traditions of your favorite presidents will be redeemed by a man who claims the election ought to be a referendum on gasoline prices.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.