Tag Archives: Peggy Noonan

How I know when to stop reading Peggy Noonan

Here is a Peggy Noonan column about how liberals are the real enemies of women.  I knew to stop reading it when I read this line, the first line:

There is a war against women. It is something comparatively new in our national life, and we have to start noticing it.

Recall that women attained the right to vote in 1920.  Before that I guess there was no war against women, because you can only war against a person.  Please fill in your own examples. 

I did read the rest.  TL;DR: the left is especially guilty of sexist attacks in place of argument, Rush Limbaugh was merely trying to protect religious liberty from the language police.  It also includes the following very awesome hollow man:

Why would the left be worse? Let me be harsh. Some left-wing men think they can talk like this because they're on the correct side on social issues such as abortion. Their attitude: "I backed you on the abortions you want so much, I opposed a ban on partial birth. Hell, I'll let you kill kids at any point until they're 15, I'm cool. And that means I can call women in public life t – – – s, right? Because, you know, I think of them that way."

That's almost text book. 

Maximum danger

When I sit down to make up examples of fallacies for quizzes and tests, I try to make them fairly obvious.  Since the course I teach fallacies in is an introductory one, the idea is for the students to recognize a systematic argument problem, even if they may not run into one so obvious.  But then again, I'm often wrong about that.  Peggy Noonan, of Bush = Superman fame ("For a moment I though of earnest Clark Kent moving, at the moment of maximum danger, to shed his suit, tear open his shirt and reveal the big "S" on his chest."), forgets who was president on 11 September 2001.  She writes:

Back to the Christmas gathering. There was no grousing about John McCain, and considerable grousing about the Bush administration, but it was almost always followed by one sentence, and this is more or less what it was: "But he kept us safe." In the seven years since 9/11, there were no further attacks on American soil. This is an argument that's been around for a while but is newly re-emerging as the final argument for Mr. Bush: the one big thing he had to do after 9/11, the single thing he absolutely had to do, was keep it from happening again. And so far he has. It is unknown, and perhaps can't be known, whether this was fully due to the government's efforts, or the luck of the draw, or a combination of luck and effort. And it not only can't be fully known by the public, it can hardly be fully known by the players at all levels of government. They can't know, for instance, of a potential terrorist cell that didn't come together because of their efforts.

But the meme will likely linger. There's a rough justice with the American people. If a president presides over prosperity, whether he had anything to do with it or not, he gets the credit. If he has a recession, he gets the blame. The same with war, and terrorist attacks. We have not been attacked since 9/11. Someone—someones—did something right.

Someone may point out that the second paragraph is in the voice of the American people.  But that's just a pundit's trick; put the claim in the minds of the American people, and it's no longer really you talking, it's the American people.  That tactic, I think, ought to be illegal.  Besides, in Noonan's formulation, it's just contradictory.  George W. Bush was President on 9/11.  Shouldn't the American people blame him for that?  Rough justice.  Doesn't the Wall Street Journal employ editors?

Back to the point.  Noonan makes the not-too-controversial assertion that no one can really know whether or not our efforts in the war on terror have been successful.  To that I would add two things, by the way.  First, she should mention that it might be the case that nothing was planned in the United States, and that our reaction–the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–was the objective.  Second, we have been attacked everywhere but here.  So it's false that we haven't been attacked.  We have, just not here.  Alright, now back to the point. 

With the standard set up of the argument from ignorance–no one knows one way or the other–she then, in the voice of the American people, a fallacy loving people apparently, draws the conclusion that the Bush administration has done something right, something to protect us.  If a really rich woman at a Christmas party full of Republicans is going to speak for the American people as a whole, can she please not make them sound so dumb?

Something old

These odd reflections from Peggy Noonan seem to make the coming election a battle between Barack Obama and the Andy Griffith Show:

Mr. McCain is the Old America, of course; Mr. Obama the New.

* * *

Roughly, broadly:

In the Old America, love of country was natural. You breathed it in. You either loved it or knew you should.

In the New America, love of country is a decision. It's one you make after weighing the pros and cons. What you breathe in is skepticism and a heightened appreciation of the global view.

Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs. New America: Tradition is a challenge, a barrier, or a lovely antique.

The Old America had big families. You married and had children. Life happened to you. You didn't decide, it decided. Now it's all on you. Old America, when life didn't work out: "Luck of the draw!" New America when life doesn't work: "I made bad choices!" Old America: "I had faith, and trust." New America: "You had limited autonomy!"

Old America: "We've been here three generations." New America: "You're still here?"

Old America: We have to have a government, but that doesn't mean I have to love it. New America: We have to have a government and I am desperate to love it. Old America: Politics is a duty. New America: Politics is life.

The Old America: Religion is good. The New America: Religion is problematic. The Old: Smoke 'em if you got 'em. The New: I'll sue.

Mr. McCain is the old world of concepts like "personal honor," of a manliness that was a style of being, of an attachment to the fact of higher principles.

Mr. Obama is the new world, which is marked in part by doubt as to the excellence of the old. It prizes ambivalence as proof of thoughtfulness, as evidence of a textured seriousness.

Both Old and New America honor sacrifice, but in the Old America it was more essential, more needed for survival both personally (don't buy today, save for tomorrow) and in larger ways.

The Old and New define sacrifice differently. An Old America opinion: Abjuring a life as a corporate lawyer and choosing instead community organizing, a job that does not pay you in money but will, if you have political ambitions, provide a base and help you win office, is not precisely a sacrifice. Political office will pay you in power and fame, which will be followed in time by money (see Clinton, Bill). This has more to do with timing than sacrifice. In fact, it's less a sacrifice than a strategy.

A New America answer: He didn't become a rich lawyer like everyone else—and that was a sacrifice! Old America: Five years in a cage—that's a sacrifice!

In the Old America, high value was put on education, but character trumped it. That's how Lincoln got elected: Honest Abe had no formal schooling. In Mr. McCain's world, a Harvard Ph.D. is a very good thing, but it won't help you endure five years in Vietnam. It may be a comfort or an inspiration, but it won't see you through. Only character, and faith, can do that. And they are very Old America.

Old America: candidates for office wear ties. New America: Not if they're women. Old America: There's a place for formality, even the Beatles wore jackets!

Which does Noonan favor, the old or the new?

I weigh this in favor of the Old America. Hard not to, for I remember it, and its sterling virtues.

Queue Andy Griffith music.

(Thanks to Dagon for the suggestion.)