OPINION: The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan Needs A Lesson On Conservatism

Peggy Noonan has spent a lot of ink lately fretting over the events of January 6. As one who has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal where she runs a column every Saturday, I certainly respect her writings in many areas. Reagan’s speech she crafted after the Challenger explosion, for example, was right on the mark. Yet for years now — the Trump years to be precise — Ms. Noonan has morphed into one of the more eloquent representatives of the staid old white-shoe wing of the GOP. That group of noble politicians who never get their hands dirty out of “principle” and are perfectly content to “lose with dignity” to those willing to play in the mud to win elections… and with them shape policy. She has been a voice of that DC establishment so well represented by the Bush family she served through two administrations. Indeed, had Ms. Noonan had her way (as I would be shocked if she voted for Donald Trump) the person taking the oath of office in 2017 would have either been the wife of a former president or the son and brother of former presidents.

Thus has her spate of recent columns disparaging conspiracy theorists, waxing tragic over the Capitol Hill riot, labeling Republicans who ousted the war-mongering DC legacy Liz Cheney “cowards”, or lamenting a GOP in disarray, not surprised me. Her latest is “Why We Can’t Move On From Jan. 6.” Perhaps a more accurate title should be “Why I Can’t Move On From Jan. 6.” I think part of the reason is that, unlike the arson, the looting, the violence and murder that for eight months consumed dozens of American cities over which she seemed to lose little sleep, what occurred on Jan. 6 was just a tad too close to home for the Washington group-think insider and columnist. It’s one thing to watch on TV from the comfort of your DC office or townhome someone else’s small business go up in flames in Minneapolis, a bleeding police officer pelted with rocks in Chicago, or a genuine insurrection in Seattle wherein an actual new faux country is declared. But it is something else entirely when a screwball with a horn hat sits in your friend’s office chair.

Ms. Noonan has been a voice of reason in the past. And I have often found myself nodding in agreement with her, even if I think she relies too much on inductive reasoning through the personal anecdote to drive home broader narratives (“I was talking to a Democrat friend the other day, and he says…”). But the former speech-writer is also representative of the very insular arm of the GOP that made the ascendancy of Donald Trump — a politician she clearly despises — possible. Her bona fides are those of the classic old school Republican establishment that has fueled so much resentment among the party base. Her fixation with a two-hour act of trespassing in the nation’s Capitol is one such example. To read her columns you would think  a hogtied Pence, Pelosi, and Schumer were trundled out on a wagon and handed over to the guillotine as an illegal government was this close to upending the entire two million-person federal apparatus. Yes, four people did die. But three were from medical emergencies and one unarmed four-tour veteran was shot by a Capitol Hill policeman… nothing to see there. BLM/Antifa rioting, by contrast, saw ten times the death toll. But for Ms. Noonan, her take-away from the latter far more pervasive and destructive atrocities was often how the imagery would drive white voters to Trump.

Given how much Ms. Noonan continues to wring her hands over Jan. 6, one would think it was 9/11, Pearl Harbor and Antietam all rolled into one. Hardly. Although this certainly fits the Democrat narrative, for which they will thank her at the next Press Club Dinner. Was Jan. 6 a serious matter? Of course. It was also brief, contained, and lost the significance Ms. Noonan keeps trying to ascribe to it the moment it was blatantly politicized by the Democrats. The party and its media cohorts who spent four months lying about the death of a capital policeman whose tragic passing was completely unrelated to the riot for political gain were the same people who spent an entire year demonizing police, and even bailing out their attackers. So one is unconvinced by Congress’ new-found love for the thin blue line.

Where I think Ms. Noonan goes awry in her reflections on the Capitol Hill riot is that she cares more about what happened and how it happened than why it happened. For me, I want to understand what did the riot mean? In fact, what did Trump’s ascendancy to be Ms. Noonan’s party’s unlikely standard-bearer say about their own leadership? What forces were at work that made so many Republicans feel so voiceless, so disenfranchised, as to offer up a thrice-married Manhattan real estate mogul and reality TV star who’d never even run for city council as their voice? The Donald was a Hail Mary pass thrown in abject desperation, by a people who no longer felt they mattered to the powerful and aloof party insiders in the far away capital city.

As if to drive home that aloofness, consider the tone-deaf first sentence in Ms. Noonan’s column. “I started the new year with a bang, at a gathering in the Washington home of a European diplomat.” Am I supposed to be impressed? I want you to imagine you are not at that swanky “gathering” clinking glasses of Louis Roederer. Rather you are sitting at your kitchen table, running your fingers through your hair,  contemplating a stack of delinquent bills before you while your children sleep, not knowing that their parents have burned through their savings and thus may lose their home due to unnecessary unemployment foisted upon them by edicts from some of the very people in that diplomat’s home who, safe in the job security of big government, will never feel the devastating impacts of their own policies. “I was interested in how Europe was processing America’s political scene.” I must ask Ms. Noonan, does she think the many American parents wondering how they’re going to afford the next run to the grocery store really care about what a diplomat from Europe — living under the protection of F-22s and US Army divisions courtesy of this same couple’s ever-rising taxes — has to say about this country?

There are many tributaries that fed into the disaffection of tens of millions that led to Trump’s 2016 nomination and victory, but it can basically be boiled down to this: there has been a complete breakdown of trust in every major institution in the country. Once important pillars of the republic — a free and impartial press, enlightened education, open exchange of ideas, corporate responsibility, a thriving middle class, a political leadership that caters to the needs and hears the concerns of its constituents, and even the legitimacy of the electoral process itself — have been, in the eyes of millions, hopelessly corrupted by people with a ruthless willingness to wield the power these combined institutions can bring to bear on the average citizen. The 2020 election was for many the final straw. Remember, we don’t just have elections to elect our leaders… we have them so we don’t kill each other. So what happened in the Capitol doesn’t happen. But all that depends on belief that the process is fair, honest, and open. Clearly, right or wrong, millions believe this is not the case. But what brought so many to this state of mistrust? Isn’t that the real question Ms. Noonan should be asking? If she wishes to brush the concerns aside as “conspiratorial”, well, hasn’t Dr. Fauci shown that sometimes today’s “conspiracy” is tomorrow’s headline?

Ms. Noonan, who swigs cocktails with “diplomats” (among the most useless and parasitic of God’s creations) has become an incarnation of the reason Trumpism, with all its boorish offenses, rose to prominence in the first place. She has worked for two Bushes in the White House whose legacies were as follows: With the father, his reneging on a pledge to not raise taxes, creating a schism in the party that opened the way for a Ross Perot candidacy, which in turn gave us the rise of the Clintons (a corrupt machine that took Trump to finally eviscerate). And with the son: the longest and most unnecessary wars in our history (still going on), and a penchant for compromising with the left to the point where he and Ted Kennedy were shaking hands in the Rose Garden. As Shakespeare might say: “Conservatism should be made of sterner stuff.”

But Ms. Noonan and her generation are not true conservatives. If she were, she would have supported a President who opposed illegal immigration, cut regulations, lowered taxes on the middle class and corporations, sought to shrink the size of the federal government, and filled the courts with Constitutional strict constructionists. But for Ms. Noonan and her like, having spent decades inside the beltway, these are all nice and good, but what kind of a guest would Trump have made at her next cocktail party? Like many in her camp, she suffers a longing for the Reagan years, even though in hindsight they just served as a speed bump along the way to the nation’s shift towards rampant leftism. And it must be pointed out that Reagan-worship has become an anachronistic fixation. We are as far from the 1980s today as the 1980s were from the 1940s. Think about that a moment.

For those who live outside the Emerald City, the paradigms shifts in governance that occur when conservatives like Ms. Noonan, who believe in bringing knives to gunfights and thus see power and the culture ripped out from under them while they review the hors d’oeuvres for their next “gathering,” have real, lasting, and often devastating consequences far beyond the annoyance of having to update one’s rolodex. While she hobnobs with DC elites, parents in the heartland must face leftist indoctrination in their kids’ schools, out-of-control tuitions, stagnant wages, inflation, an opioid epidemic, job insecurity, social media decaying young minds, and a general sense that their country has gone from Ms. Noonan’s cliché “city on a hill” to a dystopian landscape of shuttered factories, outsourced careers, and a sense that those in charge (like those in Ms. Noonan’s social circles) really do not care what goes on outside the beltway, so long as the PAC, lobbyist, and contractor money keeps pouring in.

Ms. Noonan tells us that Republicans need to be freed to “develop policies that address people’s real issues again, not only their grievances.” Does she mean the way Trump, whom she opposed, was trying to do? One cannot craft policies that address people’s real issues without appreciating what are the grievances, any more than a doctor can prescribe a cure for a disease about which she asks no symptoms. Instead Ms. Noonan harps on how appalled one should be about Jan. 6. Ironically, in her latest piece, she does briefly happen upon an insightful observation when she offers that those who were not horrified “see the Capitol as already trashed through decades of bad governance.” She describes it as a “mess and a bit of a whorehouse.” Getting warmer. But then she reflexively pivots back into her poetic “city on a hill” schtick by assuring us that “greatness can erupt there, progress can be made, things improved.” That seems sadly out-of-touch with today’s Capitol Hill. A place infested with those whose mediocrity is surpassed only by their cynicism and naked hunger for power…and willingness to selectively wield the entire system as a cudgel to attain and hold onto it. I ask Ms. Noonan, honestly, what “greatness” does she see coming out of the offices of the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Jerry Nadler, Kamala Harris, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, AOC, Cory Booker, Kristen Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, Elizabeth Warren, etc.? I’d be curious to know what “progress” she sees emerging from a weekend retreat involving this crew.

So, yes, Ms. Noonan can bemoan the two hours in which a few hundred out-of-control citizens out of 100,000 briefly entered a Capitol building they felt no longer represented their interests anyway. But perhaps she should spend less time pondering what foreign diplomats think about the goings on of the country outside the DC ramparts, and maybe ask the people of this country instead.  And “I was having brunch with a friend at Alta Strada this weekend and over mimosas I asked her what she thought of…” is not what I mean.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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