Peggy Noonan Is Wrong, Again, About the Tea Party, Politics, and Freedom

Peggy Noonan Is Wrong, Again, About the Tea Party, Politics, and Freedom
December 14, 2012

Jim Lakely

Jim Lakely is director of communications at The Heartland Institute, co-director of Heartland’s... (read full bio)

In a blog I used to write for regularly before joining Heartland, I used to specialize in take-downs of Peggy Noonan. Bless her heart, but she never really got Barack Obama, and still doesn't get today's political scene.

During the campaign of 2008, Noonan fawned over Obama as the new JFK. But she insisted Obama would be an even greater man of history — competent, moderate, unifying, and his election would go a long way toward cleansing America's racial sins.

When Obama didn't turn out to be that man, Noonan continually expressed amazement. She seemed contunually shocked that he turned out to be nothing more than a hard leftist who was deeply dividing the country and doing damage to our cherished liberties.

Since I gave up that unpaid and frustrating gig, I've tried to avoid dipping my toe into Noonan's mirage pool for sanity's sake. But her latest piece — not about Obama, but about the current state of the Republican Party — pulled me back in. I just can't resist a point-by-point breakdown of her latest Wall Street Journal piece titled "Republicans Need to Talk: In defeat, the party has an opportunity to air differences and flesh out new ideas."

Before I start citing specifics, it is clear after reading the first four paragraphs that Noonan is still in the bag for the Republican establishment that she admits is "a small thread of party thinkers I belong to." And her thesis is that the Republican Party and the right must change at the direction of that entrenched establishment, and not follow the lead of the Tea Party movement.

Come again? The Tea Party is change. Its message and passion was electorally proven in the 2010 midterms and the rise of smaller-government politicians such as Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Rick Scott, Bobby Jindal, Jeff Flake, John Kasich, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem, Mike Lee, and Rick Snyder. That's off the top of my head.

The Republican establishment Noonan cherishes has never been principled. It's always willing to "change" … in a more statist and defeatist direction.

Now for some citations and rebuttals.

Noonan writes that Romney's election would have been bad for the country and the GOP.

If Mitt Romney had won this year, he would have had a very tough presidency, with the left revived and the coffers empty and the president having to move deftly, brilliantly, to summon and keep support. And while there were many things in Mr. Romney's toolbox, deft political brilliance wasn't one of them.

Three months ago, Noonan thought Romney's election would be both good for the country and the GOP. He was serious about putting this country on a sane fiscal path. The country needed seriousness. Today, apparently, it needs more of the same unseriousness.

Here's Noonan fearing the GOP will go the way of the Whigs.

Right now everyone's open to the idea of change. The party can either go the way of the Whigs or they can straighten up and fly right, get serious, make their philosophy feel new again, and pick candidates who can win.

Well, the candidate who won ran on an old, early-20th-century philosophy of redistribution and demonization of anyone who has achieved success. Obama and the Democrats own that philosophy. The surest way for the GOP to go the way of the Whigs is if it becomes "Democrat Lite," which is what she seems to recommend. (She is typically non-committal.) Why buy Diet Coke when you love the sweet taste of the Real Thing.

Noonan writes that on November 6, everyone in the GOP "from the establishment to the base, just took a serious shock to the system."

Organisms that survive a shock are often able to see their surroundings more acutely. The establishment, hardy self-seeking survivors that they are, already knew the party was in trouble. Now, importantly, the base does. Now local precinct leaders know. The tea party knows, Christian conservatives know. They're all reading the same data, the same polls.

Yes. Many on the right were shocked by Obama's victory. But people who pay attention and understand the grassroots on the right learned a different lesson from November.

There is a strong argument to be made that Romney lost because he wasn't a principled choice for the small-government, leave-me-alone, Tea Party voting bloc that was not energized and stayed home on November 6. Many of them stayed home. If Romney turned out the base the moderate, milquetoast John McCain did in 2008, he might have won.

And where was Noonan's concern, or even recognition, that a "shock to the system" is a good thing when the Tea Party was the "shock" to the GOP's political order? That doesn't count, I suppose, because it wasn't directed by the "establishment" elites in the Surrender Party inside the Beltway.

More typical Noonan: She takes cheap shots at principled conservatives — in this case, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, who delivered speeches at the Jack Kemp Awards dinner last week.

Much attention was paid because both are assumed to be running for president, which each joked about, somewhat creepily. We've got dire problems and you're thinking New Hampshire. Good to know.

It's a joke, dearie. You were probably the only one who says they are the right to be creeped out by it. Worse, Noonan goes on to accuse Paul Ryan of not having any new ideas.

Rep. Ryan's speech was OK but insufficient. He didn't say anything terrible but he didn't stake out new ground or take chances. Actually, the part where he said Mitt Romney made "a big election about big ideas and offering serious solutions to serious problems" was slightly terrible because it isn't in a general way true, and it forestalls analysis that might actually be helpful in the long term. Mr. Ryan got points for loyalty but no one doubts he's loyal, and it undercut his central message, which is that the Republican Party needs "new thinking," "fresh ideas and serious leadership," and must find "new ways to apply our timeless principles to the challenges of today."

Well, yes, that's true. But what thinking do you suggest? In what area? Which fresh ideas? Do you have one?

This passes for top-shelf punditry? Seriously? Paul Ryan is the only man in Congress of any stature who has spoken frankly about the debt bomb that we face — an act of political bravery not shared by many in either party. And Ryan is also the only one in Washington who has put forth a plan to stop that bomb from going off — a plan the GOP majority in Congress approved. Of many teeth-gritting passages, this might be the one that removed the most of enamel.

Noonan also doesn't miss the opportunity to shoe-horn in yet another cheap shot at Sarah Palin (gotta keep up appearances with the establishment, I suppose) in a rip on Rubio. She advises Rubio do something completely false and manipulative.

Sen. Rubio had a better speech in that it was deeper, more broadly philosophical and less prescriptive. He told of how he'd spoken, at the August convention, of his father, a bartender in banquet halls. Recently he spoke in a "fancy" hotel in New York—that was rather Sarah Palin, the "fancy"—and the ballroom workers gave him a badge that said "Rubio, Banquet Bartender." He should wear that badge on his suit every day. It's better symbolism than Mr. Romney's car elevator.

Oops! Forgot Noonan's reiteration of the stupid leftist meme about Romney's wealth. I sure hope Rubio never had someone park his car at a non-chain restaurant, no matter how well he tipped. That will probably also be a negative in 2016.

This criticism is especially infuratiing — not the least because a person of "the right" should not be criticizing the lifestyle of those who have earned their wealth. The left gives Hollywood and super-wealthy athletes a pass, after all. Why add to the double standard?

And you can be sure that Noonan wouldn't be the first one to jump on Rubio for trying to play such a cheap political trick — wearing his dad's bartender nametag as a badge of middle- to lower-class credibility. But, rest assured, Noonan would happily join the "Rubio is a phony" pig pile after others made it acceptable.

In this next passage, Noonan is very critical of the way Ryan and Rubio adhere to fake "media expertise."

I find both Mr. Ryan's and Mr. Rubio's media expertise mildly harrowing—look at the prompter here, shake your head here, lower your voice there, raise it here, pick up your pace in this section. An entire generation of politicians in both parties has been too trained in media, and to their detriment. They are very smooth but it doesn't make them seem more convincing, it makes them seem phonier.

For crying out loud! Noonan's political hero, Obama, is famous for such tics. Indeed, she has long hailed Obama's phoniness as the height of modern political acumen. Yet it's long been known that Obama can barely put together a coherent thought he doesn't have to walk back if it's not scrolling on his teleprompter. Another old trope/joke: Obama's "back-and-forth" prompter reading style makes it look like he's watching a tennis match. But as always with Noonan, the embarrassing "sins" of the GOP are the admirable virtues of the Democrats.

All that said, the idea that the Republicans need to focus and refine their message is warranted. For better or worse, they are the only electoral avenue Americans currently have to slow the long march to statism. But the GOP's has to be about advancing freedom and liberty, style points be damned.

Here it is in two sentences: Your life belongs to you. The limited time you have on Earth should be spent pursuing the needs and desires of you and your family, not following the aims and instructions of the bureaucrats and politicians in government.

That has always been the message of the Tea Party. Perhaps it needs refinement, and perhaps it's not a message that easily resonates in a country that has long marinated in the idea that government intervention is always helpful and cost free (financially and in regards to our liberty).

But if that's not the message of the GOP, then it should go the way of the Whigs — and those who cherish their freedom and want to be left alone by the government will fine another political avenue.

Jim Lakely

Jim Lakely is director of communications at The Heartland Institute, co-director of Heartland’s... (read full bio)