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Peggy Noonan Wishes For Spirited Debate, Robust Democracy, More CBS Sitcoms
Surely American democracy is just a Lincoln-Douglas debate away from saving.
She swam up from the darkness, blinking her eyes against the light like a newborn foal just dropped into a pile of manure. Peggy Noonan, beloved sister of the Order of the Seconal Hebetude, found herself on a floor, staring up at a fluorescent light set in a cracked and crumbling ceiling. She turned her head slightly and saw a mirror, a fiberglass standup shower stall stained with long rivers of rust, the corner of a toilet.
This was not her bathroom in Manhattan. And she would know, she’d woken up on its floor a thousand times. No, this was something else, something rundown, something … common.
And then it came back to her. A highway, an off-ramp, an indifferent clerk with two-toned hair and more piercings than an entire Smith College sorority house …Yes, now she remembered. She was in a Red Roof Inn off of I-75 somewhere near Valdosta, Georgia, where she had come to get in touch with the common clay of American soil, the frustrated voter and his concerns.
Though how she wound up on the bathroom floor remained a mystery .
I detect now a theme that Washington operates with a view only to itself, not us. It has its own internal conversations and exigencies, its own psychodramas. (Joe Biden’s domestic agenda was driven by his desire for a legacy: He must go big and be understood as a second FDR! Kevin McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago and resurrected Donald Trump shortly after the Capitol riot because Kevin desires to be speaker!) It’s about political figures and their needs; everything else (is this good for the country?) seems like an afterthought. It has always been so, but it seems more so now.
“Peggy!” a voice cried with alarm. She paused for a moment, the cheap branded Red Roof Inn pen poised over the cheap branded Red Roof Inn notepaper, and looked around the room. She was alone, with just the muted TV showing a rerun of “Bob Hearts Abishola” for company. Where had the voice come from?
“It’s me, That Voice !” the voice cried again. “Is this really a good comparison? On the one hand, you have a president whose domestic agenda is pitched to help people, and if a side effect is that he gets so much passed into law that history eventually considers him a second FDR, well, is it so bad going down forever as the president who ended childhood poverty through the Childcare Tax Credit or gave America a giant push towards climate change resiliency? Future generations can build a Biden Monument on the Mall if they want, assuming it’s not a hundred feet under the Potomac by then. Seems like a good tradeoff right now.
"On the other hand, you have blank-eyed pouch rat Kevin McCarthy sucking up to an insane former president with the intellectual wattage of cheese to fulfill his own personal ambitions. Who benefits from that besides Kevin McCarthy and that white-hot giant star he calls his ego?”
Oy. These dilemmas could give a person the vapors. Thankfully she had a new book to help her make sense of it all.
“This Will Not Pass” by Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns captures the insularity of Washington and the closed-off nature of the conversations that consume it. It is deeply reported, with sourcing from both parties and criticisms of both, which is refreshing. It also captures both parties’ refusal to be honest with their own voters.
She paused to snack on a muffin she had bought at a Delaware Wawa fifteen hours before. It had gone quite stale and was barely edible, much like the prose that now covered several sheets of branded Red Roof Inn notepaper.
The Republicans are afraid of the Trumpers. The Democrats are afraid of the progressives. Both parties fear large parts of their base. So they lie to them—“I’m with you!”—or mislead. This is self-corrupting and leaves a frozen field in which not enough gets done. Why compromise with Republicans if you’re trying to assure progressives you hate them? Why compromise with Democrats if it opens you to suspicion with the Trumpist part of the base?
“My word,” That Voice sighed. “Do the names Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema ring a bell? Who do you think has been a needle in the balloon that is Biden’s agenda? It’s not the progressives, who have compromised in order to shove a couple of his priorities through the House of Representatives. As for the Republicans, their base thinks Democrats are communists trying to groom children to become the sexual playthings of transsexual Dolly Parton impersonators or something. Do these sound like two equal sides of a coin?”
She ignored That Voice, as she had become entranced by the flickering TV. She so enjoyed that moment in every episode when Bob hearted Abishola!
I suggest the ridiculous, a series of Lincoln-Douglas-type debates that are tied not to an upcoming election but to the idea of the meaning of things.
For Republicans the subject would be: Let’s talk about Trump.
For Democrats: Let’s talk about the progressive movement.
“Lord, woman,” That Voice sighed. “Do you not understand the difference between a personality cult and a party trying to satisfy a broad coalition of interests? Oh wait, you worked for Ronald Reagan. Of course you don’t.”
Imagine an anti-Trump person speaking with eloquence and reason, in good faith, with good nature. Imagine someone who would concede what can honorably be conceded about policy achievements in the Trump era but also speak of why the former president, with his nature, doesn’t and can’t fit the future.
“You just finished saying that Republicans are afraid of Trumpers, a bunch of fanatical zealots currently trying to pass state laws criminalizing women who have miscarriages. What reasonable and rational anti-Trump person do you imagine them miraculously listening to? Bill Kristol? Larry Hogan? A plumbing contractor he ripped off while building his Atlantic City Harrah's in 1983?”
Democrats: Speak honestly of what your progressives are doing to your party and its reputation. Everything—socialist economic policy, woke cultural extremism. […]
Challenge the progressives directly: Do you love America? Why? Why don’t you talk about this? Do you approach the vulnerable with a feeling of protectiveness? Is there some discrepancy between your claims of higher sensitivity and your tendency to push people around? Why should you gain control of one of America’s two great parties?
“You spent this entire column wagging your finger at both parties for ignoring their voters, but now you want progressives to spend an entire debate in a struggle session?” That Voice had gotten so high it had cracked, becoming thin and reedy. Weirdly, she thought it sounded a bit like Jared Kushner, but that couldn’t be right.
”Instead of addressing the material concerns you claim occupy the minds of ordinary voters, you want, what, Bill Kristol and Bernie Sanders to get on C-SPAN and talk about the meaning of things? Would this be a debate or an Andrew Bird concert? I swear, why I bot—“
That Voice suddenly cut off, replaced by the dulcet sounds of an Anita Bryant record that Peggy forced into her noggin to drive out all other thoughts. She sprawled, exhausted, on her Red Roof Inn bed atop dozens of sheets of branded Red Roof Inn notepaper. Tomorrow she would have to find an enraged Capuchin monkey to type her ramblings into something approaching coherence that her editors would print.
On the other hand, maybe she would just send them all that notepaper. They certainly wouldn’t read it one way or the other.