THE PLANK AUGUST 15, 2008
Confession: When it comes to highly exposed women columnists (if it must come to that), I prefer the woman of the Journal to those of the Times. While Gail Collins has been heroic ballast for the ship Maureen Dowd has waterlogged of late, Peggy Noonan's political commentary has been a rare beacon of sanity amongst the right-leaning pundits in this election season. As easy on camera as she is in print, she owns even the shortest sentences ("And yet."), and paragraphs on end absent of snark, and indeed at times containing something sublime. (I wish not to lowball women writers generally--I just find it refreshing and wish to give credit where due.) And, during the primary, she more than any other pundit of her stature, had Hillary Clinton's number--assessing her person and politics not in malice but clear-eyed understanding.
In today's column, Noonan--of Ronald Reagan's Pointe du Hoc oration, and Bush 41's 1988 convention speech--laments the loss of "placeness," the notion that people (especially politicians) are rooted in geography rather than imaginary. Of course, her despair, over what's essentially a feature of modern globalization, won't soon be relieved. The instantaneity of technology turns walls on their sides to become bridges--or better, windows--through which disparate individuals peer at one another in amusement and often imitation. She deftly observes that despite their age difference, both Barack Obama and John McCain are creatures of this untethered public culture.
Where is Barack Obama from?
He's from Young. He's from the town of Smooth in the state of Well Educated. He's from TV.
John McCain? He's from Military. He's from Vietnam Township in the Sunbelt state.
Chicago? That's where Mr. Obama wound up. Modern but
Midwestern: a perfect place to begin what might become a national
career. Arizona? That's where Mr. McCain settled, a perfect place from
which to launch a more or less conservative career in the 1980s.
Neither man has or gives a strong sense of place in
the sense that American politicians almost always have, since Mr.
Jefferson of Virginia, and Abe Lincoln of Illinois, and FDR of New
York, and JFK of Massachusetts. Even Bill Clinton was from a town
called Hope, in Arkansas, even if Hope was really Hot Springs. And in
spite of his New England pedigree, George W. Bush was a Texan, as was,
Sure. But I think Noonan's desire for "placeness" is dated, unfortunately. Electoral votes are the last, least sexy gasp of state-based identity politics. In 2008, there are just too many ways to free associate and affiliate with these two candidates for president--a fact Obama has acknowledged as "projection" and McCain has embraced via a Janus-faced Republicanism. Noonan, however, sees a resurgence on the horizon:
I end with a thought on the upcoming announcements of
vice presidential picks. Major props to both campaigns for keeping it
tight, who it's going to be, for by now they should know and have,
please God, fully vetted him or her. On the Democrats, who are up
first, I firmly announce I like every name floated so far, for
different reasons (Joe Biden offers experience and growth; Evan Bayh
seems by nature moderate; Sam Nunn is that rare thing, a serious man
whom all see as a serious man.) But part of me tugs for Tim Kaine of
Virginia, because he has a wonderful American Man haircut, not the cut
of the man in first but the guy in coach who may be the air marshal. He
looks like he goes once every 10 days to Jimmy Hoffa's barber and says,
"Gimme a full Detroit."
Detroit: that's a place.
I don't want to rehash the middling hackery of the WSJ's editorial page. I don't want to endorse all of Noonan's oeuvre (the magic dolphin stuff, and the W-love rankle a bit). I don't even want to set off another round of speculation in the already hyperventilated Veepstates. I just want to remark that this column, especially the last notes, is funny, thoughtful stuff.