Saturday, May 01, 2010

Peggy Hits One on the Nose

Peggy Noonan frustrates me because she can veer from absolute brilliance to abject incoherence from week to week. As it happens, her column for today's Wall Street Journal is in the brilliant category. And you should read the whole thing. A few key excerpts:

We are at a remarkable moment. We have an open, 2,000-mile border to our south, and the entity with the power to enforce the law and impose safety and order will not do it. Wall Street collapsed, taking Main Street's money with it, and the government can't really figure out what to do about it because the government itself was deeply implicated in the crash, and both political parties are full of people whose political careers have been made possible by Wall Street contributions. Meanwhile we pass huge laws, bills so comprehensive, omnibus and transformative that no one knows what's in them and no one—literally, no one—knows how exactly they will be executed or interpreted. Citizens search for new laws online, pore over them at night, and come away knowing no more than they did before they typed "dot-gov."

It is not that no one's in control. Washington is full of people who insist they're in control and who go to great lengths to display their power. It's that no one takes responsibility and authority. Washington daily delivers to the people two stark and utterly conflicting messages: "We control everything" and "You're on your own."

And that is why we have Tea Parties. But there's more.

Which brings us to Arizona and its much-criticized attempt to institute a law aimed at controlling its own border with Mexico. It is doing this because the federal government won't, and because Arizonans have a crisis on their hands, areas on the border where criminal behavior flourishes, where there have been kidnappings, murders and gang violence. If the law is abusive, it will be determined quickly enough, in the courts. In keeping with recent tradition, they were reading parts of the law aloud on cable the other night, with bright and sincere people completely disagreeing on the meaning of the words they were reading. No one knows how the law will be executed or interpreted.

No doubt about that. But there's more still. This passage concerning Gordon Brown is especially interesting:

Both parties resemble Gordon Brown, who is about to lose the prime ministership of Britain. On the campaign trail this week, he was famously questioned by a party voter about his stand on immigration. He gave her the verbal runaround, all boilerplate and shrugs, and later complained to an aide, on an open mic, that he'd been forced into conversation with that "bigoted woman."

He really thought she was a bigot. Because she asked about immigration. Which is, to him, a sign of at least latent racism.

The establishments of the American political parties, and the media, are full of people who think concern about illegal immigration is a mark of racism. If you were Freud you might say, "How odd that's where their minds so quickly go, how strange they're so eager to point an accusing finger. Could they be projecting onto others their own, heavily defended-against inner emotions?" But let's not do Freud, he's too interesting. Maybe they're just smug and sanctimonious.

I don't know about that last part, and it's especially interesting that Noonan invoked Freud in this context. When I was in college, Freudian analysis was on the wane in the English department but there were still a few practitioners about. I read Shakespeare with a Freudian professor and while it was a useful way to frame arguments while analyzing works of literature, it's a very reductionist way of viewing the world. Freudians can use the terms and notions that Freud developed to control debates and render opposing views out of bounds. Viewing the world through a prism of race or gender does the same thing. Coriolanus is more than just a walking superego. And the Arizona legislature isn't just a bunch of bigots.

But there's more still:

The American president has the power to control America's borders if he wants to, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not and do not want to, and for the same reason, and we all know what it is. The fastest-growing demographic in America is the Hispanic vote, and if either party cracks down on illegal immigration, it risks losing that vote for generations.

But while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about the well-being of the Republicans, who worries about America?

No one. Which the American people have noticed, and which adds to the dangerous alienation—actually it's at the heart of the alienation—of the age.
It's not always easy to interpret the electorate's wishes and I don't presume to know this for sure, but I've long suspected the following: the reason the Republicans were turned out of office had very little to do with the policy positions of the Democrats. The Republicans were fired because they became too comfortable with the blandishments of Washington. Since the only other option was the Democrats, the Democrats gained control. But I don't think many people wanted a greatly expanded role for the federal government, which is what the old bulls like David Obey and John Dingell were offering.

Rather, what the people really want is something that neither party has supplied; an honest assessment of where we are and what our options are to solve the problems we face. Neither party has been particularly honest about that, although I'll give Paul Ryan credit for trying. The kabuki has to end soon, though.

And remember, read the whole thing.


my name is Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. D said...

Que lastima.

my name is Amanda said...

Arguing today isn't sitting well with me. I figured I would remove the comment, and move on.

Mr. D said...

Understood. I'd rather not argue either.

Brad Carlson said...

The Republicans were fired because they became too comfortable with the blandishments of Washington.

Translation: The Republicans were merely Democrats with better suits.

And what was most unforgivable is they squandered the mantle of fiscal responsibility in the Bush years. You know it's an alternate universe when the party who likes to spend money like a crack whore with a gold card lectures the Republicans about fiscal restraint.

Mr. D said...


One quibble -- I've seen some of the Congressional Republicans and they don't have better suits. Otherwise, spot on.