Peggy Noonan’s entire post-presidential speechwriting career could pretty much be summed up as “I like things that remind me of things that I like about things,” and we wouldn’t lose a beat.
Reading this TNR paean to her her rhetorical skills is intriguing. And yet.
I’ve known a few people who are Nooner fans, and to a person, they all seem to enjoy being wrapped in the impenetrably gauzy pronouncements that she calls thought – if the problem with politics is the sharply and cutting words and attacks, she solves that problems by chucking donuts at you instead. It doesn’t really change the intent, but it’s possible that you might catch one in your mouth and think, “Mmm, tasty!” rather than “What the fuck?”
Today’s article is about the loss of “placeness” which, rather than any actual thing that a real person could define, seems to be her indefatigable lust for her own mythology. The same woman who found the true meaning of 9/11 in buying the candy she likes wishes for the days when we had presidents that were from somewhere, like Abraham Lincoln, who was from Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, or George W. Bush, who’s from Texas by way of Connecticut via G5. These were men of a place, you see, men who were from somewhere…and that meant something. Something good. Something great. Something we appreciate.
Perhaps the worst part of it is that America is a constant redefinition of places. The old Irish and German and Polish ghettoes were replaced by idea of Bostonness and Baltimoreness and New Yorkness, and the Civil War created an idea of Southernness that hadn’t really existed prior. The industrialization of the West and its subcultures created an East Coast versus West Coast differentiation, and urbanization created any number of regional and subregional identities. As things change, identities will change and places will change. And when someone does something that makes them a point of pride or even a part of a national legend, they inevitably get claimed by somewhere.
Of course, all of this requires that we willingly buy into mythology. And what Noonan is complaining about isn’t anything that either man can do anything about, she’s simply stamping her foot and asking for her legends now, please, rather than waiting like a good American until the highways and parks start getting built. You’d think someone who worked for the Texan-born governor of California Democrat-turned-Republican budget busting fiscal conservative Ronald Reagan would at least understand that.