The Madness of A Noonan Scorned
We weren’t around when Mr. Peggy Noonan walked out on the loon, but after reading this we can only imagine the bitter recriminations, the bile, the unhinged frothing hatred. Of course, the only thing that can bring it on these days (besides reliving the day they pulled Elian from her sweaty grasp) is an attack on the sainted
George W. Bush, after five years in the presidency, does not intend to get sucker-punched by the Democrats over race and poverty. That was the driving force behind his Katrina speech last week. He is not going to play the part of the cranky accountant–“But where’s the money going to come from?”–while the Democrats, in the middle of a national tragedy, swan around saying “Republicans don’t care about black people,” and “They’re always tightwads with the poor.”
George W. Bush is a big spender. He has never vetoed a spending bill. When Congress serves up a big slab of fat, crackling pork, Mr. Bush responds with one big question: Got any barbecue sauce? The great Bush spending spree is about an arguably shrewd but ultimately unhelpful reading of history, domestic politics, Iraq and, I believe, vanity.
Iraq: Mr. Bush decided long ago–I suspect on Sept. 12, 2001–that he would allow no secondary or tertiary issue to get in the way of the national unity needed to forge the war on terror. So no fighting with Congress over who put the pork in the pan. Cook it, eat it, go on to face the world arm in arm.
As for vanity, the president’s aides sometimes seem to see themselves as The New Conservatives, a brave band of brothers who care about the poor, unlike those nasty, crabbed, cheapskate conservatives of an older, less enlightened era.
A lot of Bush supporters assumed the president would get serious about spending in his second term. With the highway bill he showed we misread his intentions.
Wow. What brought this on? I mean, Peggy’s not GOING TO BE IGNORED!
The administration, in answering charges of profligate spending, has taken, interestingly, to slighting old conservative hero Ronald Reagan. This week it was the e-mail of a high White House aide informing us that Ronald Reagan spent tons of money bailing out the banks in the savings-and-loan scandal. This was startling information to Reaganites who remembered it was a fellow named George H.W. Bush who did that. Last month it was the president who blandly seemed to suggest that Reagan cut and ran after the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon.
Poor Reagan. If only he’d been strong he could have been a good president.
Before that, Mr. Mehlman was knocking previous generations of Republican leaders who just weren’t as progressive as George W. Bush on race relations. I’m sure the administration would think to criticize the leadership of Bill Clinton if they weren’t so busy having jolly mind-melds with him on Katrina relief. Mr. Clinton, on the other hand, is using his new closeness with the administration to add an edge of authority to his slams on Bush. That’s a pol who knows how to do it.
At any rate, Republican officials start diminishing Ronald Reagan, it is a bad sign about where they are psychologically. In the White House of George H.W. Bush they called the Reagan administration “the pre-Bush era.” See where it got them.
First and foremost Mr. Bush has abandoned all rhetorical ground. He never even speaks of high spending. He doesn’t argue against it, and he doesn’t make the moral case against it. When forced to spend, Reagan didn’t like it, and he said so. He also tried to cut. Mr. Bush seems to like it and doesn’t try to cut. He doesn’t warn that endless high spending can leave a nation tapped out and future generations hemmed in. In abandoning this ground Bush has abandoned a great deal–including a primary argument of conservatism and a primary reason for voting Republican. And who will fill this rhetorical vacuum? Hillary Clinton. She knows an opening when she sees one, and knows her base won’t believe her when she decries waste.
Second, Mr. Bush seems not to be noticing that once government spending reaches a new high level it is very hard to get it down, even a little, ever. So a decision to raise spending now is in effect a decision to raise spending forever.
Third, Mr. Bush seems not to be operating as if he knows the difficulties–the impossibility, really–of spending wisely from the federal level. Here is a secret we all should know: It is really not possible for a big federal government based in Washington to spend completely wisely, constructively and helpfully, and with a sense of personal responsibility. What is possible is to write the check. After that? In New Jersey they took federal Homeland Security funds and bought garbage trucks. FEMA was a hack-stack.
The one time a Homeland Security Department official spoke to me about that crucial new agency’s efforts, she talked mostly about a memoir she was writing about a selfless HS official who tries to balance the demands of motherhood against the needs of a great nation. When she finally asked for advice on homeland security, I told her that her department’s Web page is nothing but an advertisement for how great the department is, and since some people might actually turn to the site for help if their city is nuked it might be nice to offer survival hints. She took notes and nodded. It alarmed me that they needed to be told the obvious. But it didn’t surprise me.
Is it me or is anyone else alarmed that someone from the Homeland Security Department would ask Peggy Noonan for advice.? Next thing we know, we’ll all be sitting on our roofs with the waters lapping at our tushes, clutching a Bible in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other while waiting for the Sacred Dolphins of the Apocalypse to show up and carry us to safety.
At a conservative gathering this summer the talk turned to high spending. An intelligent young journalist observed that we shouldn’t be surprised at Mr. Bush’s spending, he ran from the beginning as a “compassionate conservative.” The journalist noted that he’d never liked that phrase, that most conservatives he knew had disliked it, and I agreed. But conservatives understood Mr. Bush’s thinking: they knew he was trying to signal to those voters who did not assume that conservatism held within it sympathy and regard for human beings, in fact springs from that sympathy and regard.
So basically when George Bush said that he loved us and would never leave us and that he would pull out before he came…well, although he meant well, he lied. Men!
I never understood compassionate conservatism to mean, and I don’t know anyone who understood it to mean, a return to the pork-laden legislation of the 1970s. We did not understand it to mean never vetoing a spending bill. We did not understand it to mean a historic level of spending. We did not understand it to be a step back toward old ways that were bad ways.
Lies, lies, and more lies.
Here are some questions for conservative and Republicans. In answering them, they will be defining their future party.
If we are going to spend like the romantics and operators of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society;
If we are going to thereby change the very meaning and nature of conservatism;
If we are going to increase spending and the debt every year;
If we are going to become a movement that supports big government and a party whose unspoken motto is “Whatever it takes”;
If all these things, shouldn’t we perhaps at least discuss it? Shouldn’t we be talking about it? Shouldn’t our senators, congressmen and governors who wish to lead in the future come forward to take a stand?
And shouldn’t the Bush administration seriously address these questions, share more of their thinking, assumptions and philosophy?
So you see, we can talk out our problems and then you won’t have to leave me, because we can make it work if we can just communicate, and I know that you really love me and I’ll even do all of those things in the bedroom that I’m really good at, even though they disgust me, if you’ll just stay and make it like it was…
Otherwise it’s bunny-soup time for Jenna & NotJenna’s little friend, Princess Absolut.
… and that would be a shame. Tasty. But a shame nonetheless…