It's almost getting tiresome to me, this picking on Peggy Noonan for her naivete concerning Barack Obama. Almost. She's coming around to the truth of Obama's hard leftism and the phoniness of his HopeyChange campaign rhetoric slower than my quest to lose that extra 20 pounds I've been carrying around for five years. At some point, I expect Noonan's BS meter to finally redline, and read a column in which her great talents are righteously unleashed on Obama. But no matter The One's transgression, so far, Noonan never takes on the persona of a woman scorned. And scorned she has been.
Alas, much of the right side of the blogosphere that still cares about Noonan's work has been aflutter about this week's column, titled "Now for the Slaughter." One would think such a headline means Hell fire follows. Alas, all we get the flicking of a Bic. Noonan begins by accusing the Obama administration of being "bush league" (small "b") for blowing off a trip to Australia and Indonesia so the president can stay in town to
shepherd through bribe and threaten for passage his health care debacle. After Gibbs made the announcement this week ...
The reporters didn't even provoke or needle in their questions. They seemed hushed. They looked like people who were absorbing the information that we all seem to be absorbing, which is that the wheels seem to be coming off this thing, the administration is wobbling — so early, so painfully and dangerously soon.
Nice of you to notice, Peggy. You noticed that this week? It's not like Obama's approval ratings went south from its great heights just yesterday. And this is your first observation that the press has been merely "absorbing" information from the administration, rather than reporting and questioning? Oh, well. Many of us "absorbed" the wheels coming off this administration for some time. At least Peggy was cogent enough to recognize that Bret Baier's interview with Obama the other night was the exception to the rule of reverential press treatment of our president.
It revealed [Obama's] primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety.
No kidding. Welcome to the reality based community, which has noticed Obama's tendency to dodge since the campaign days. Noonan was amazed that the excellent Baier, who would not be bullied or filibustered, pressed Obama to concede "that no, he doesn't know what's in the bill right now."
It is still amazing that one year into the debate this could be true.
Really. Really? Has Noonan even read her own newspaper's editorial pages in the last two months? Or even in the last week? Obama has never cared what's actually in the health care bill. That's why for all his talk in the Baier interview of the Congress voting on "his" bill, it's never been his bill. It's been Harry Reid's bill. It's been Nancy Pelosi's bill. It's been the bill of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. All that matters is that the government becomes Master and Commander over 1/6th of the U.S. economy. The rest is merely details down the line — the kind of details that exact how, not why, politicians and bureaucrats exercise the power that comes with this take-over.
Noonan notes that "throughout, Mr. Baier pressed the president."
Some thought this bordered on impertinence. I did not.
Wow! Noonan really is mad. Perhaps I'm underestimating her. But I think not.
Noonan is obsessed with a president's style — any president's style. That's her thing. She is the world's greatest defender of Reagan's folksy style — as well as his steely and (to some) dismissive persona when negotiating with the Soviets. She didn't have much love for Bush the Elder's aloofness (for good reason). She developed an grudging admiration for Clinton's "cad" persona. And she at turns praised and criticized George W. Bush's "cowboy" style. When Dubya was high in the polls, she praised Bush's straight-forward (some could rightly call it "simple") communication style. When GWB was low in the polls, that style was ripe for criticism. Fine. But there is more to a presidency than one's political style. There is ideology. There is substance. There is a reason why a president does what he does. And Noonan seems not the least bit curious why Obama seems so cool and aloof. But she's fascinated that Baier made news by forcing Obama "off his well-worn grooves."
He did it by stopping long answers with short questions, by cutting off and redirecting. In this he was like a low-speed bumper car. In the end the interview seemed to me a public service because everyone in America right now wants to see the president forced off his grooves and into candor on an issue that involves 17% of the economy. Again, the stakes are high. So Mr. Baier's style seemed — this is admittedly subjective — not rude but within the bounds, and not driven by the antic spirit that sometimes overtakes reporters. He seemed to be trying to get new information. He seemed to be attempting to better inform the public.
My stars! Ya think? Noonan's concern — at this late hour for the most substantial piece of domestic legislation in 70 years, and after nothing but deferential (if not fawning) coverage from the White House Press Corps for more than two years (just ask Hillary) — for whether a reporter is "rude" or "out of bounds" would be cute if so much were not at stake. And even though Baier's challenges had all the impact of a "low-speed bumper car," Noonan feels the need to defend the line and manner of questioning. Directed at a politician raised in Chicago who has unleashed so many calumnies and distortions of his opponents that it's impossible to keep track. Good Lord.
In her second-to-last paragraph, Noonan finally — kinda, sorta, a bit, gently and almost, but not really — gets to what amounts to a payoff for that mysterious "Now for the Slaughter" headline. But the money line (in bold below) is couched with enough padding to safely catch an egg dropped from a 10-story building.
Presidents have a right to certain prerogatives, including the expectation of a certain deference. He's the president, this is history. But we seem to have come a long way since Ronald Reagan was regularly barked at by Sam Donaldson, almost literally, and the president shrugged it off. The president — every president — works for us. We don't work for him. We sometimes lose track of this, or rather get the balance wrong. Respect is due and must be palpable, but now and then you have to press, to either force them to be forthcoming or force them to reveal that they won't be. Either way it's revealing.
Yes. Obama's evasions are revealing ... now to Noonan. Yet they have been plain to see for right-leaning pundits for months, if not since Obama started to gain traction in the 2008 Democratic primaries. If it weren't so pathetic, Noonan's naivete might pass as cute. And for her to even mention Sam Donaldson's barking at Reagan in a column dedicated to Baier's interview with Obama is an insult to Donaldson. It's not as if Donaldson was all alone. It was a canine symphony in those days. Baier's single bark could use some accompaniment and harmonizing in today's Washington Press Corps. (I'd note, however, that (1) Obama came off so badly that he won't be sitting down again with Baier until at least 2013, and (2) he gave about as much time to ESPN to go over his March Madness picks as he did to talk about health care with Baier. Draw your own conclusions.)
This post is long enough, but we need to get to the key part of Noonan's conclusion (key part, because the "Demon Pass" option is now off the table):
And so it ends, with a health-care vote expected this weekend. I wonder at what point the administration will realize it wasn't worth it — worth the discord, worth the diminution in popularity and prestige, worth the deepening of the great divide.
And I wonder at what point Noonan will wake up and stop projecting her aw-shucks good intentions upon President Obama. There's a reason why this administration was willing to abide by "Demon Pass" (Answer: He wants this political victory by any means necessary.). There's a reason why Obama didn't know what was in this bill (Answer: He doesn't care). There's a reason why he thinks it's worth it (Answer: It will "fundamentally transform America," as he promised in the campaign, in a way that makes the citizen more beholden to the state than at any time in our history.).
At least when Claude Raines delievered his "shocked, shocked" line in Casablanca, he (and the audience) knew what was actually going on. Noonan remains clueless. And it's hard to say it's not a willing ignorance.