Peggy Noonan Converses With Giant Talking Statue, And One Of Them Makes Sense

Peggy Noonan Converses With Giant Talking Statue, And One Of Them Makes Sense

Lord but she needed to pad out this week’s column. Peggy Noonan, sister in good standing of the Order of the Diazepam Insouciance, had uncharacteristically little to say. It happened to even the best writers, she supposed, so no surprise that her own well seemed to have run dry.

But there was so much going on in the world! She could write about the corporate malfeasance and rollback of government regulations that likely played huge roles in the disastrous train derailment currently despoiling a delightful corner of her beloved Robert Taft’s Ohio. She could write about the Chinese spy balloon that the feckless Joe Biden had allowed to drift across the North American continent like an Oriental Hoover, sucking up the nation’s secrets and beaming them back to Beijing. She could talk about the desperate Republican scandal to pretend that they did not in fact, despite decades of statements and actions to the contrary, want to destroy Social Security.


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Bah! So common! So jejune! So boring to try and squeeze 800 words out about any of these topics.

A break. She needed a break. The weather was unseasonably warm in New York this week, balmy as spring, so why not take a stroll around the city, perhaps visit a famous site or two, and find some inspiration?

And what could be more inspiring than the Ellis Island ferry chugging its way out into the harbor, towards the place where the American dream began for so many millions of the unwashed masses? The thrills those refugees from the Old World felt approaching the vast terminal where they would disembark to begin their new lives, the great lady, the Statue of Liberty nearby on her own island, greeting their ships with her torch held aloft to the heavens welcoming to America those who yearned to breathe free ...

“For fuck’s sake.” The deep voice boomed across the water, the shockwave knocking out the ferry’s engines and leaving it adrift. A cloud passed across the sun. The imposing stone face turned slowly, so slowly in her direction, the metal screaming in protest as the statue’s neck twisted to look down at her.

“Good Lord, would you give it a rest?” The statue dropped her arms to her sides and rolled her neck. “I haven’t heard such overwrought claptrap since Dylan Thomas kicked it.” She put her hands on her hips and slowly arched her torso, and Peggy heard a crack like the Earth itself was splitting open.

“Oy,” the statue said. “You think you’ve got lower back pain? You ever tried standing still in the same spot for a hundred and forty years while holding a giant torch straight up in the air? It’s amazing my vertebrae haven’t all crumbled into powder.”

The statue slowly stepped off her pedestal and lumbered down to the edge of Liberty Island, where she pulled up her tunic, plopped down on the ground, and stuck her giant feet in the water.

“Christ, does that feel good,” she said. “The least you people could have done was give me something to sit on. It didn’t have to be a fancy Eames chair or anything. A stool would have been fine. Now then!” She slapped her thighs, and the sonic boom caused the ferry to tilt precariously to port. Peggy looked around and saw that her fellow passengers did not seem to have noticed. They were all happily gathered at the rails, pointing excitedly back at the Manhattan skyline or out towards Ellis Island, snapping pictures on their iPhones and oblivious to the one-hundred-and-fifty foot statue soaking her feet in New York Harbor and glaring at them.

“So tell me, Peggy,” the statue said. “Are you feeling inspired yet?”

On Wednesday Nikki Haley announced her presidential campaign in Charleston, S.C. I found myself thinking not about her candidacy but about the launch itself… An introducer said she will “lead us into the future”; she added, “America is falling behind.” It was all so tired, clichéd, and phony. It was national politics as it has been done circa 1990-2023.

“Ha! 1990!” Lady Liberty laughed. “Peggy, I know you are going to pretend history ended when the first George Bush came to power, but the president you worked for in the 1980s had plenty of hoary clichés. Have you forgotten ‘Morning in America’? ‘Prouder, Stronger, Better’? That America had fallen behind and needed the great Reagan to lead it back to glory was the entire theme of his 1980 campaign! It was supposed to be the antidote to all the national malaise of the 70s.

“Shoot, he even used ‘Make America Great Again’ back when Donald Trump was busy discriminating against any Black people who wanted to rent his apartments. I assure you, outside of Hugh Hewitt’s brain, it was no less tired and phony then too. People might have bought it, but that didn’t make it any more authentic.”

In her speech she said some nice things: “Take it from me, the first female minority governor in history: America is not a racist country.” Everyone who scrambles over our border knows that; it is good when elites say it.

“Ha!” The statue slurped harbor water from her cupped hands. “I know that’s simplistic and wrong, and I literally have an empty space where my brain should be.”

Connected to this, the second part of our column, on last weekend’s Super Bowl ads. What do we discern from them about how the nation’s ad makers see their country? That we’re a nation of morons, a people with fractured concentration, a people with no ability to follow even a 60-second spot ...

“To quote my old comedy improv teacher,” Lady Liberty said. “Yes, and?”

The ad makers must have asked themselves: What does America want? And answered: dumb, loud, depthless and broken. I’m here to say I’ve met America and that’s not what they want. What they want is “Help me live, help my kids live, help me feel something true.”

“You’ve met America where, at Ripon Society meetings?” Lady Liberty cackled as she used her torch to light a giant cigarette and blow a great plume of smoke towards New Jersey. “A feeling in this formulation is just another commodity for ad makers to sell people, like Doritos or Hyundais. And that’s fine! Not every Clydesdale has to have a story to inspire people. Sometimes they can just sell beer.”

Finally, the Academy Awards are next month. At the Oscar lunch this week the Academy made clear it wasn’t over the Will Smith slap. Good. It was a big moment … Here is how to turn that moment into something helpful. It doesn’t involve “image rehab.” It involves constructive honesty. Will Smith should walk in and say this:

“Oh no.” The statue held her head and moaned. “I beg of you, Peggy.”

"Last year I did something bad to a guy who was just doing his job, and I am here to acknowledge it from the same stage-to admit that in attempting to humiliate him, I humiliated myself. I showed a number of things, including sheer bad judgment ... As a public figure, I delivered exactly the wrong message and put forward exactly the wrong example. What we do in public matters, especially for the young. If we smoke, they’ll think it’s cool to smoke. If we use bullets and guns, they’ll be inspired to go in that direction ... I’m going to continue to work on myself, and I ask you, as I close, not to applaud, if you were going to. After all the furor, let’s end it quietly and with thought."

“America is not a racist country. Now allow me, an elderly white woman, to condescendingly lecture a successful Black man about his manners, and demand he beg forgiveness from a worldwide television audience. That’s the message you’re going with this week?” Lady Liberty sighed and flung the cigarette butt out into the harbor, where it bobbed on the surface like a dead whale.

“Well, back to the grindstone,” the statue said as she lumbered back to her feet with a sigh that shook the city's bridges. “I mean this, Peggy, from the bottom of my heart. Next time you’re stuck for material, just take a week off.”

Lady Liberty picked up her torch and book, clambered up onto her pedestal, and resumed her usual position. Peggy watched her recede as the ferry chugged back to the Manhattan shore. Wise words for a statue, she thought. Not that she had any intention of heeding them.


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