Friday, January 21, 2005

Newsflash - I Disagree with Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan thinks the President's Inaugural Address did not have the right tone.
The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.
She seemed particularly disturbed by the "higher calling" tones woven throughout the speech, and takes a "glass half-full" view of the President's theory of history.
He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.

This world is not heaven.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. . .

It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission. . .

. . . Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
Here, I think Noonan, a practicing Catholic, is being too sensitive to the religious rhetoric, interwoven in a political speech, used by the President to explain his ideology. I also believe she is also allowing her conservative, realist side to take over, as evidenced by her "some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government" comment. However, I think she is particularly troubled by her interpretation that the President is proposing that we attempt to make Earth like Heaven. While she has the (correct) notion that Earth is not and cannot be Heaven, I think she is misreading the intentions of the President when he outlined his higher goal of extending freedom and liberty. I don't think he wants liberty to spread so that we can make Heaven on Earth. Instead, and I don't generally get too deep into theological musings, perhaps the President's larger goal is to extend liberty and freedom to all men so that they can worry less about their worldly problems and begin thinking more about what comes After. When men don't have to worry about getting food, getting shelter, or getting oppressed or killed, they can turn their minds from the physical to the metaphysical.

Ms. Noonan also commented that, "The speech did not deal with specifics--9/11, terrorism, particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract." The world doesn't watch State of the Union speeches. (Heck, few Americans watch State of the Union Addresses!), so the President chose to express his ideals in a forum in which he knew the world would be watching. Thus, I'd have to say he's saving more specific proposals for the State of the Union Address. That's a safe assumption, isn't it?

Finally, Ms. Noonan thinks that the speech, especiall the ending ("Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."), was "over the top." She chalks this up to a White House suffering from "mission inebriation." Further, she "wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded" and offers that, in her opinion, "[t]he most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not." Again, I disagree with Ms. Noonan's premise that the President is trying to make Heaven on Earth. I also think she is a bit out of touch with the sensibilities of the average folk on this matter. Perhaps she has seen too many speeches, especially in the last year, and perhaps she has been too long in the New York/Washington corridor and needs to extricate herself for a bit. One of the special qualities of men is that we so often aspire to complete tasks that so many others believe are not possible. Many do so from self-motivation. Many more need inspiration. That is what the President offered yesterday and that is what many of us felt. We felt inspired to help shoulder the load and keep on keepin' on. It may be a cliche, but life is lived in the journey, not the destination. Men need a reason to go on that journey. I can't think of better motivation then helping other men, half a world away, experience freedom and, once they are secure in their liberty, enabling them to turn their minds to higher matters.

NOTE: For an updated version of this post, go here.

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