Noonan on Bush

I’m no great fan of the WSJ editorial page, as it usually reeks of neoconservative stupidity. But I’ve long liked Peggy Noonan. Like George Will, she thinks, and like George Will, she has good days and bad days. Probably more bad than good, like Will. But at least she thinks, which is not something that can be said for many of the neocon ninnies that clog up the page.

What she wrote today (Friday, 1 June) is amazing. The matter of immigration is set to tear the GOP apart, and I suspect the war will eventually as well. Beginning with a look at the proposed immigration bill (a bill I suspect will eventually die a cold, cold death in a Washington, D.C., summer), Noonan writes:

I suspect the White House and its allies have turned to name calling because they’re defensive, and they’re defensive because they know they have produced a big and indecipherable mess of a bill–one that is literally bigger than the Bible, though as someone noted last week, at least we actually had a few years to read the Bible. The White House and its supporters seem to be marshalling not facts but only sentiments, and self-aggrandizing ones at that. They make a call to emotions–this is, always and on every issue, the administration’s default position–but not, I think, to seriously influence the debate.

They are trying to lay down markers for history. Having lost the support of most of the country, they are looking to another horizon. The story they would like written in the future is this: Faced with the gathering forces of ethnocentric darkness, a hardy and heroic crew stood firm and held high a candle in the wind. It will make a good chapter. Would that it were true!

She says the Bush administration could have proposed a number of smaller bills, beginning with the sealing of the border and building on that, instead “braying about their own wonderfulness.” Yeah, well, those of us who were opposed to the invasion of Iraq from the beginning could have told Noonan all this in late 2002. “Braying about their own wonderfulness” is what neoconservatives and their muscular nationalist hangers on do — they constantly imagine themselves Churchill in the summer of 1940. (Or better, a fictitious Churchill saving the day in 1938.) But let us leave this aside for a moment. At least she finally gets all this, and that’s good to see. Moving on to the meat of the essay, Noonan writes:

The beginning of my own sense of separation from the Bush administration came in January 2005, when the president declared that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation. This was at once so utopian and so aggressive that it shocked me. For others the beginning of distance might have been Katrina and the incompetence it revealed, or the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq.

What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom–a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don’t need hacks.

Bush, then, is not a conservative at all. Most Republicans who call themselves conservatives are probably not really conservatives either. They have taken one part nationalism, one part militarism and two parts veneration of the presidency, mixed in a little notion that America represents a universal civilization, and called it “conservatism.” It isn’t. Unfortunately, this kind of “conservatism” pre-dates the Bush Jong Il administration by some decades, and will likely be with us long after Bush has faded into his well-earned obscurity. How Republicans win back their party, if there’s anything to win back when all is said and done, I do not know. I wish them luck, and it would be nice if there were a real alternative than two deeply statist war parties in Washington.

I’m not gonna hold my breath, however.