Monday, July 31, 2006


Noonan on the President

Peggy Noonan offers what reasonable people would characterize as gentle criticism of the President in her latest editorial in the Online Journal.

It’s not a comprehensive essay, rather more disjointed travelogue through Noonan’s troubled consciousness about George Bush, his habits of mind, his political philosophy, even his sometimes too-familiar manner.

That latter point sticks in Noonan’s craw over the President so frequently referring to Secretary Rice as “Condi.”

I have been a big and early fan of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. I greatly admire her intellect, her drive, her professional credentials, her personal history. Whatever reservations I harbor about her recent out-front diplomatic efforts – she remains, after all, Secretary at the helm of the Department with the well-deserved reputation for foggy bureaucracy – I nevertheless appreciate that Madame Secretary is bright, tough, decisive, and charismatic.

And no, I wouldn’t dream of calling her Condi either. But then, we’re not old friends or trusted colleagues, either.

Perhaps she takes the tact that I often use with my superiors in the military. Many of my superior officers, and most often my Command Sergeant Major (CSM, one enlisted rank higher than I, and a level higher in authority), call me Jeff and are otherwise very familiar with me. I always address officers as Sir, the CSM as “Sergeant Major,” and expect my subordinates to do likewise with me.

Rank has its privileges as they say, and I am quite certain that most Presidents use familiar names and even nicknames for their most trusted aides, advisors and cabinet Secretaries, they just don’t mention them in private.

Think FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Nixon (especially), Ronald Reagan and Clinton. We may never have heard the familiarities, I have no doubt whatsoever others did. Call it discourse in the electronic age.

Noonan also remarks on a social construct, a habit of discourse and mind, for which she finds no proper label. The circumstance was the staged-for-public-consumption meeting between Secretary Rice and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. They shared kisses on the cheek when greeting it other before cameras, “as if they had a personal relationship unstressed by the current war.”

Noonan explains what she thought about this (emphasis mine):

I know it is spin. You know it too. And yet it worked for me. I found it a relief. I believed both Ms. Rice and Mr. Saniora were well-meaning friends who can help see the world through the mess. I was being spun, knowing I was being spun, and aware that I'd been spun successfully. There should be a name for this, for the process whereby one knows one is being yanked and concedes it has been done successfully--that one is grateful to have been spun. In the theater, it is called the willing suspension of disbelief. That's what allows the play to make an impact on the audience: they have to be able to make believe that what's happening on the stage is really happening. Maybe to a degree it is a requirement for all political participation, all effective political communication, too.

I know what she means, but I think Noonan misses what is a more timeless, universal quality to what she notes in such mutually-agreed-upon portrayals.

There is a kind of tacit understanding, some primitive desire for community that formed the basis for all of civilization. I believe in God, so I’d want to say He gave us that desire; others can chalk it up to some evolutionary hardwiring that gave humanity their ability to be social animals, first and foremost. To allow this, people must be willing to not kill each other, for food or anything else, to entertain the possibility of friend and partner.

Civilization is impossible without it. It is also – by the way – what separates us from the modern-day fans of the 7th Century Caliphate, as well. Understandable that Noonan might see such a phenomenon as just one more political construct, but if so, it’s the politics of humanity. And well might we thank Providence, else all would be war.

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