Can America’s Daddy Come Back?

Insofar as this is my last day at PA, I hope you won’t mind the self-indulgence of one more wack at the journalistic piñata known as Peggy Noonan. There’s nothing like a good crisis to bring out the most predictable in Our Peg, and her first Friday column after the Paris attacks is no exception.

After blaming Barack Obama for the Syrian refugee brouhaha, which he did not in fact initiate, and assuming he’s talking about that because he doesn’t know what to do about terrorism, Noonan tells us she knows what we are missing. Reading along, you know what she’s going to say, but still you shriek in horror and hilarity at the call for America’s Daddy:

[C]ontinued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude. In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s “optimism.” That was his power, they say—he was optimistic.

No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss. Reagan’s power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem—the economy, the Soviets, the million others—he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done.

What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

So Peggy knows we are all longing for Ronnie, and fortunately for us, we have her to tell us exactly what it is we miss in him, and presto-chango, we have the infallible litmus test for the next president: when you gaze into their eyes, it needs to be like looking into the eyes of a goat, with zeal untainted by any doubt.

No wonder Obama drives people like Noonan crazy; here’s a guy who in a speech at Notre Dame of all places argued that doubt is critical to religious faith. And at a time when we are led to believe Americans want a child-like certainty that the bad, bad people won’t come do bad things here even if that means wiping anyone who looks or sounds or prays like them off the face of the earth–Obama talks in terms of long-range strategies and containment and courage and persistence.

I don’t know if Obama’s approach to terrorism is the right one, and neither does Peggy Noonan. But unlike Peggy, I do not want a national leader who is a partner in national self-delusion.

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.