July 18, 2007

An Open Letter to Peggy Noonan

Dear Ms. Noonan:

Last Friday, oddly enough on Friday the 13th, you wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal that filled me with dismay. It wasn't that your sentiments came as any particular surprise to me. For months now it has been increasingly obvious that you have come to despise the President of the United States.

That is a harsh word, but I don't believe it's the wrong one. Lately you seem to be dipping your pen in poison rather more often than ink and I often wonder, when I can contain my growing disquiet, whether you realize the damage you are inflicting?

When I was younger, I admired your work. You made commonplace words soar. In your hands, hackneyed concepts we'd heard time and time again took flight in our imaginations; they seemed to flit around inside our heads long after the closing lines died away and our TV sets were turned off. I can remember thinking, "That is power - the power to light a fire in people's hearts."

I wanted to use that power to make the world a better place one day.

Unfortunately, such power is not always used responsibly. During my freshman year in college, one of most fascinating books I read was Plato's The Gorgias. It was a required text for Ethics 101 and I've never forgotten it in all these years. Gorgias, you may recall, was a Greek orator who founded a school of rhetorics in Athens. So skilled was he at argumentation that he gained great fame for his ability to make even the most absurd arguments appear the stronger. Thus in time he became known as the father of sophistry. Because of his ability to persuade just about anyone of just about anything, he believed rhetoric was the supreme art.

Plato, on the other hand, argued that the orator was the most dangerous of men because he could, by dint of fancy words, make the worse argument appear the better and so mislead the public to their detriment. Words can easily make evil and ignorant men seem wiser and more knowledgeable than good and honest men, and so allow them to prevail when they should not.

The point of all this is simple: rhetoric is a two-edged sword. The words must never be more powerful than the message, and those who are blessed with the gift of easy persuasion must be doubly careful that their words are harnessed to a worthy goal. That, I fear, was not the case last Friday.

What was it you meant to achieve with your opinion piece? What was the goal, the end state you wanted your words to accomplish during this difficult point in our nationís history? How did you use the precious gift youíve been given by God; the ability to persuade?

It's been a slow week in a hot era. I found myself Thursday watching President Bush's news conference and thinking about what it is about him, real or perceived, that makes people who used to smile at the mention of his name now grit their teeth. I mean what it is apart from the huge and obvious issues on which they might disagree with him.

This seems an odd question to ask. Gritting one's teeth bespeaks anger or personal pique rather than simple political disagreement. If a complaint is real, substantive, identifiable, then it clearly falls under the rubric of policy issues covered in your second instance. But if it is some vague, unspoken, unnamed, perceived-by-some-people complaint, one has to wonder whether there is a real failing or only some generalized emotional reaction; perhaps war fatigue? A reflection of the unrelentingly negative press coverage the President has received? Every collection of evils known to man, all wrapp'd up in one convenient person, ready made for the blaming:

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing!

So easy, isn't it? But then you reject that line of reasoning, though it clearly still exists. I see it every day in my own small town when I go to the grocery store and see bumper stickers that say "My child is an honor student, but my President is a moron". But according to you, that kind of cheap shot "never happens anymore". No one believes it is in the least unhinged, which must make it, what?

Mainstream?

I'm not referring to what used to be called Bush Derangement Syndrome. That phrase suggested that to passionately dislike the president was to be somewhat unhinged. No one thinks that anymore. I received an email before the news conference from as rock-ribbed a Republican as you can find, a Georgia woman (middle-aged, entrepreneurial) who'd previously supported him. She said she'd had it. "I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth."

"What used to be called Bush Derangement Syndrome?" Ms. Noonan, you must be living on another planet from the one some of us still inhabit. Could it be that sometime in the past few months, you silently slipped across an invisible line? "No one believes that anymore?"

Who is "no one"?

I suppose to people who live in your ivory tower, I, a Marine wife of 28 years with a good education, am no one. My husband, a 48 year old Colonel in the Marine Corps with a Masters degree, is "no one". So are most of our friends. We are all, to hear you tell it, "no one". We have become invisible. It sounds as though you have joined the vast legion of dissmissers, the nose in the air types who ask themselves, "Who are these 28 percenters who still support George Bush"? Are we to be thrown out of the club because we don't agree with you?

And most unbelievable of all,

"I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth."

On what objective evidence is this pronouncement based? As David Limbaugh notes in a respectful and very well reasoned rebuttal to your op-ed,

Bush Derangement Syndrome is not something that "used to" exist. It is alive and well -- and apparently growing. While Peggy says that no one thinks anymore that those afflicted with the syndrome are unhinged. I do, as do many others, and I deeply lament that Peggy is giving cover to the vicious, indefensible assaults against Bush from the left since 2000.

Likewise, I deeply lament that she cites approvingly, the e-mailer for the perception that Bush doesn't tell the truth. Of all the unconscionable lies the left has disseminated, this one is among the worst, and I can't believe Peggy is lending her name to it even if by implication. If some conservatives have gritted their teeth, it hasn't been over the Iraq war (except for the faint of heart), but mostly immigration and spending. And it's certainly not that they have bought into the Goebbelsesque propaganda that "Bush lied, people died."

As for your argument that the President doesn't "seem" to be suffering enough to suit you, let me see if I understand your argument:

The war isn't going the way you think it should be, so naturally you think it would improve matters greatly if the President would mope a bit more.

After all when times are tough, the mark of a great leader is his sensitivity to the national mood; his ability to emote appropriately on demand. At critical junctures, the American people must see their leaders wallow in despair and hopelessness; it brings them down to our level to see them admit failure. The last thing we want is a stiff upper lips, faux good cheer.

If Bush feels he absolutely must put a brave face on things to deceive our enemies, the least he could do, is do it badly enough that the folks at home could see through the charade! Sort of like Clinton wiping that tear from his eye at that funeral (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

And of course watching a press conference or two is enough to confirm your preexisting opinion that Bush is not suffering enough. Who needs to do research when you've got a rock-ribbed Republican or two to back you up! Hey, it works for the New York Times. Perception is reality, and anyway, facts are for sissies. You are the maker of opinion, Ms. Noonan. You have the power.

Ms. Noonan, you are entitled to your opinion in this life, but it seems to me that opinions, especially about something this important, ought to be backed up with something more than an email from a disgruntled former Republican and having watched a press conference. You wrote a shallow column that happens to be contradicted by the facts. That isn't like you. Your contention that the President doesn't suffer over the war doesn't turn out, as I demonstrated in my linked post, to be based in fact. Not even close. But you didn't bother to do even the most rudimentary research, or you would have learned that. But you didn't care. You had already made up your mind.

That's sloppy work, and it is inexcusable. If I can find three or four examples in less than half an hour when I do this for free, surely you can find the time, as a paid columnist, to make sure one of your main points is not factually inaccurate. I suspect your personal antipathy towards Mr. Bush clouded your judgment and that is a pity.

The final third of your piece is no less bizarre. The American people do not routinely "hire and fire" presidents. When was the last time we fired a president? Neither did you suggest any rational, historically based reason to suppose we should want to fire this president. If you had one, please write a column on that subject and back it up. If not, to skirt the subject only fuels irrational speculation that "another former Bush supporter" would like to impeach the President, but can't. Did that honestly never occur to you? It should have. It seems inexcusable to me that it didn't.

War is difficult. It is bloody and unpleasant, but we lost as many people on one day - D Day - as we have lost in two entire wars, spanning many long years.

In the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) we lost 3650 men and had over 17,000 wounded in one day.

And yet you are tired. You are angry. You are fed up.

My husband is in Baghdad this year Ms. Noonan. And my husband was in the Pentagon on 9/11. And I am tired, very tired, too. But not so tired that I am ready to do what you are doing.

I am not so tired that I have forgotten a very old lesson that I learned under Bill Clinton: that even if you do not respect the man for whatever reason, you owe the office of the President some respect and that you do not tear that institution (or this nation) down by tearing down its occupant. I didn't do that during the Clinton years and in my opinion I had far more provocation.

I think you should be ashamed to have done what you are doing during wartime, or at any other time quite frankly. I am not sure how you have so far forgotten yourself. I do not understand what purpose your column served, except to vent your personal frustration. Was that so important to you, the personal, as opposed to what we're trying to accomplish as a nation? When did personal venting become paramount?

We used to be bigger than that, as a party. If you are dissatisfied, take a long, long look in the mirror, Ms. Noonan. Perhaps that fundamental lack of restraint and propriety explains something of your dissatisfaction with the way this country is going. I cannot imagine your former boss, Ronald Reagan, having written such a column.

Never in a million lifetimes. As a matter of fact, I cannot imagine George W. Bush writing such a column, despite the many, many times he has been viciously attacked. In that, he is very like Reagan.

How that must gall you.

If you have an argument to make against the war, make it. But consider these facts. Earlier this year, Congress asked the President to change course in Iraq.

He changed the leadership at the Pentagon.

He changed the leadership in Iraq, nominating General Petraeus, who was confirmed unanimously by Congress. General Petraeus wrote the counterinsurgency manual that was used to clear Anbar Province.

Last August, a classified document leaked (illegally) to the Washington Post declared Anbar irretreivably lost. Today, it is peaceful. You probably don't care about that. You disregard it because it doesn't fit your preconceived notions of Iraq.

On May 24th Congress voted to fund the Surge, so that it could continue. We only got the full complement of Surge troops in place a few weeks ago, yet Harry Reid (and you, Ms. Noonan) have already pronounced the Surge a failure.

It has been only about two months since Congress voted to fund the Surge, and only a few weeks since we had the full complement of troops in theater and were finally able to BEGIN implementing the Surge strategy. NOWHERE in General Petraeus' manual does he suggest that an insurgency can be defeated in a few weeks.

I think you and Harry Reid are being monstrously unfair to some very brave men and women whom our Congress voted authority to implement this plan, and I think you are wrong. One of them is my husband.

And I think that considering the fact that even Democratic plans to withdraw plan to leave a considerable number of troops in harm's way to inexplicably "fight al Qaeda in Iraq" (in other words, accomplish the mission they claim is impossible now, with fewer troops than we have on hand today), you ought to be asking yourself a question:

If we don't quell the violence now, won't those troops left behind be in even greater danger, a year from now?

Of course they will.

But no one is asking the hard questions. Because like you, Ms. Noonan, they are oh so tired of war. So sad, isn't it?

CWCID: Limbaugh article, Camojack

Posted by Cassandra at July 18, 2007 10:57 AM
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