Peggy Noonan's Dead Aunt Is Smarter Than You

Graciousness! A lost art in America, Peggy Noonan mused to herself as she wandered the marbled halls of her Upper East Side manse with a pitcher of gin-and-NyQuil martinis in one hand and her Aunt Mary’s framed Ellis Island health card in the other. The card had notches in it to indicate that Aunt Mary had passed the examination of a shipboard doctor every day during her passage across the ocean to America in 1909, back when the country feared the dirty plagues carried by the filthy Irish from their home counties of Cork or Dork or Fie-de-Horsecow, or wherever. In America, Aunt Mary had pinned the card to her coat and worn it everywhere to let her new countrymen know that she was not one of those Irish, but a clean and (of course) gracious woman who would not infect anyone with potato blight.

Peggy paused to lap greedily at her martini pitcher. The drink calmed her Ebola anxiety but filled her with a melancholy disappointment toward Kaci Hickox, the nurse recently returned from West Africa, who had been yanked off the plane and slapped into quarantine by Peggy’s great friend, Gov. Chris Christie. There was a woman who could learn a lesson in graciousness! Just because, despite testing negative for Ebola and not showing any symptoms, she had been shoved into an unheated tent with no shower and only a box to shit in.

Had Peggy’s Aunt Mary complained about being feared as a health risk back in her day? No, she had accepted it as part of the price one paid for coming to America. Now, it is true her Aunt Mary had been a maid and not a nurse, nor had she trained in the study and care of patients with infectious diseases, or lived in an era when medical science had a greater understanding of microbes and epidemics, or been an American citizen with a working knowledge of her civil rights, or had the Centers for Disease Control backing her up. But ... what was the point here?

Ah, but she had grace. Peggy missed that, missed the “courtesy to the collective” so missing in America today, which is why she worked for and worshiped a president who believed in helping people. It is why Peggy had long advocated adequate funding for public schools, socialized medicine, a solid safety net for the indigent and less fortunate, gun control, government money to fund research into cures for the terrible diseases that ravage the population, higher taxes on the wealthy, working toward balancing the terrible income inequality of today’s society that had not been seen since, well, since the Gilded Age of American history, around the same time that Aunt Mary first stepped off the boat ...

Look at that. Her martini pitcher was empty.

Her houseboy Manuel was still under Peggy-ordered quarantine with his immigrant family at their filthy Bronx tenement, so she had to call the corner pharmacy herself to ask them to deliver another case of NyQuil. (Of course there was still plenty of gin in the house.) When the case arrived, she tipped the delivery boy a buffalo nickel and mixed another pitcher.

She sipped her drink as she stared at the portrait of Robert Taft on her wall. Certainly Nurse Hickox understood what the people wanted. Why, just look at the evidence!

Support among the American public for quarantine appears at this point to be overwhelming. You can know this if you walk down the street and ask people, or if you look at a CBS poll that found 80% of respondents think citizens returning from West Africa should be quarantined until it’s clear they do not have the disease.

Eighty percent! Overwhelming! Almost as overwhelming as the 90 percent of people who wanted gun control measures enacted in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre two years ago. Certainly she had vociferously called for such measures then, had she not?

She stared up at the stern, imposing face of Taft, who could usually be called upon to answer her questions. Not this time. Now he stared back at her with what she swore was amusement on his face. Probably sad to not be sharing a martini with her!

But America’s “professionals” in the scientific and medical communities, and certainly those in the White House, seem deeply uninterested in the views of common people. When pressed on the issue they, especially the president, offer only gobbledygook and slogans. We can’t be safe here until they’re safe over there! They sound like propagandists for Bleeding Belgium in World War I.

Bah! Professionals in science and medicine! She would show those eggheads what she thought of their trained opinions by putting the word in quotes in this week’s column! Fight it over there so we don’t have to fight it over here? What equivocating mountebank could fool the American people with such nonsense?

It must be noted that all this -- the quarantine argument, the travel ban -- is another expression of the deep, tearing distance between America’s professional and political elites, who operate as if they are estranged from common sense, and normal people, who are becoming more estranged from the elites, their oblivious and politicized masters.

Oblivious! There was a word. An important word, a word to describe the political elitists one could watch bloviating about the issues on Sunday chat shows every weekend.

She realized at that moment she could no longer feel her face.

The elites…are no longer immediately respected, their guidance is not reflexively taken. They seem more immersed in political thinking—what is the ideologically enlightened position to take, where’s the boss on it?—than in protecting public health.

The elites should emulate Peggy’s spirit animal, the great Ronald Reagan, and his quick actions when faced with a terrible medical plague that endangered thousands of American lives, when he listened to medical experts and made it the goal of his administration to educate the public about the ravages of the disease.

Ah, Aunt Mary, she thought sadly as she stared at the now-blurry lines of the yellowed and ancient health card in its frame. If only Americans today had the common sense of an early-20th-century immigrant Irish chambermaid! Then perhaps the country could still be great.

Why, look at that. Had she finished up all that NyQuil already?


Note: If you find yourself paywalled as the Wall Street Journal, simply type the title of Peggy’s column (A Lesson From My Great-Aunt) into Google, and presto! A link with no paywall.


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