Alexander K. McClure (like Evan Coyne Maloney, another one of those great names I just like to say and write) has posted over at Polipundit about the rather negative comments made by Peggy Noonan and William F. Buckley, Jr on President Bush’s Inaugural speech.
I’ve been reading bloggers comments on their commentaries all day. The crew over at Lucianne are not happy with Margaret; they seem to feel betrayed, and some worry that she has given “aid and comfort to the enemy” in a manner of speaking, because the liberal press is gleefully running with her critique (Can’t you just see them? “Wow! A Republican is criticising Bush! We can USE this!”) and spinning it against Bush. They are more forgiving of Buckley because…well…he’s William F. Buckley, Jr, and you don’t gainsay the man. And besides, his critique seemed more pedantic and scholarly. Buckley wrote about clarity of language. Noonan wrote about the emotions found therein, and writing emotions always begets emotions, so she is being flayed by many…also her column seemed to get bonus “this-ticked-me-off” points for having a headline that did raise the eyebrows.
I admire both Buckley and Noonan – he is a name I can cull out of the memories of my youth; my liberal Democrat parents found they could never dislike him simply because he was so intelligent and so much fun to listen to, and so I respected him before I ever read him. She is an especial heroine of mine, a lyrical prose-poet, and an Irish kid from Long Island, no less – but I was surprised by their rather negative reactions, and I’ve been mulling it over a bit before commenting, myself.
First, let me say that I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Buckley and Noonan have made their critiques. One of the things I like about the Republican party is that it is not yet monolithic. In an era where virtually every liberal or left-wing writer seems to be starting from the same faxed-over jumping off point, and then writing in a weird goose-step that allows no dissent (can you say Peter Beinart?) It is refreshing to see that conservative writers and pundits may dare to depart from the conventional wisdom of the right. It illustrates in a clean fashion that we conservatives are still permitted to think for ourselves, and that there is no compulsion to submit to sameness. That’s an extremely valuable commodity within the party, and the scattered declarations I read here and there, that folks are “writing off” either Ms. Noonan or Mr. Buckley, is disturbing to me. There is something that Peggy Noonan said a few years ago, on Hardball: “Decent people may disagree and still be decent people…” That is a straight-up fact that the left has (since the institution of the Clintonian “scorched earth” mentality) completely lost sight of. I’d hate to see folks on the right lose sight of it, too.
As to my own thoughts on the whys and wherefores of their remarks? Occam’s Razor says the most immediate explanation is probably the right one. Perhaps they simply didn’t like the speech – but I believe various factors contributed to the dislike.
I think the fact that Noonan and Buckley are both speechwriters has some impact on how they received the speech. Subconsciously perhaps they were thinking how they might have said things quite differently than Michael Gerson. Remember, Noonan wrote about “a thousand points of light” – Gerson wrote of “the untamed fire that will reach into the darkest corners of the world.” It is a matter of style and degree, I think. Neither Noonan nor Buckley would have comfortably written that “untamed fire” line, because it is an edgy direct thrust. Buckley is a writer of pinpoint precision of language. Noonan is a poet and an expansive dreamer, in the best way that one may dream. Gerson is the straightforward pragmatist. He is writing for a man who wants nothing to do with five syllable words and would adorably mangle a soaring image; he is writing for a man who wants to lay it all out cleanly, and fearlessly, and Gerson does that job with breathtaking competence:
And for those who think yesterday was the first time President Bush spoke of the importance of promoting democracy, I’ll point you to this part of his staggeringly bold (and media-ignored) 2003 speech at Whitehall Palace:
In democratic and successful societies, men and women do not swear allegiance to malcontents and murderers; they turn their hearts and labor to building better lives. And democratic governments do not shelter terrorist camps or attack their peaceful neighbors; they honor the aspirations and dignity of their own people. In our conflict with terror and tyranny, we have an unmatched advantage, a power that cannot be resisted, and that is the appeal of freedom to all mankind. ..The stakes in that region could not be higher. If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. And as we saw in the ruins of two towers, no distance on the map will protect our lives and way of life. If the greater Middle East joins the democratic revolution that has reached much of the world, the lives of millions in that region will be bettered, and a trend of conflict and fear will be ended at its source.
The movement of history will not come about quickly. Because of our own democratic development — the fact that it was gradual and, at times, turbulent — we must be patient with others. And the Middle East countries have some distance to travel.
Do yourself a favor and print out that particular speech, tonight, and read it – chances are that (unless you are a newshound like me) you never even heard of the speech; C-span only ran it live and never again. The papers printed it and then ignored it. That speech was the first and distant rumble of the roar we heard clearly, as the president renewed his Oath of Office. Since the Whitehall speech was so soundly ignored by the media, perhaps that is why so many folks and pundits seemed taken aback by this Inaugural vision. I have been convinced for some time that Whitehall was directly responsible for the utter hysteria involved in the left’s bel
ieving it had to defeat Bush in 2004.
But I digress. Look at those two excerpts of Michael Gerson’s writing for President Bush. That’s neither poetry nor pedantry; it is simply powerful and pragmatic truth. It is the writing one does for the likes of a man who wants to be heard and understood. It is language that forces you to look where you might rather not, for a noble purpose. In that respect, it is not really surprising to me that Noonan found it – finally – unpalatable, and Buckley found it a bit confusing. Writing, like taste, is highly individual.
In terms of literature, you might say that Noonan is Jane Austin – witty, wry, insightful but always ladylike. Buckley is James Joyce – maddening and exhilarating. Gerson is Dostoyevsky – unafraid to write you into hell and back out again, and insisting that you pay attention. There is room for all three, and many more, in an healthy, conversant and creative political party.
UPDATE: Jimmie over at Sundries Shack has a really excellent analysis of the Inaugural speech that comes at it from a completely different angle, and finds that most of the content can be explained in four words…or whatever…Condoleeza Rice and Porter Goss. Read it, you’ll enjoy. And his places is just a feel-good kind of site, everyday.
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