Political Animal


February 10, 2012 10:31 AM The Ultimate Peggy Noonan Column

By Ed Kilgore

Most political junkies have some celebrity pundit that drives them particularly crazy. Often it’s not the one you disagree with most, but the one who exemplifies the characteristic sins of your ideological opponents and of the punditry profession itself.

For me, that pundit is Peggy Noonan, who regularly phones in olympian observations for a Wall Street Journal column, and appears on television shows often enough that I try to avoid them all.

Now I will admit right off the bat that I was prejudiced against Noonan from virtually the first time I heard of her, because she single-handedly invented a previously unknown and unimaginable character: the celebrity speechwriter. Perhaps it was just jealousy on my part, as one of the countless scribes who had toiled in anonymity at this typically thankless and poorly remunerated task. But I always thought Noonan was a little too eager to push herself into the spotlight with her famous bosses, from Dan Rather to George H.W. Bush, before semi-retiring into punditry.

At any rate, Noonan’s columns are notable for their lofty elitism, their wandering thematics, and above all, for the immaculate self-confidence with which she says really dumb things. By all three measurements, today’s Noonan column reaches new lows. This is Platonic Ideal of the Noonan column.

It’s really three remotely connected columns. The first offers a pretty conventional take on the GOP nominating battle, but presented as a choice of personality types rather than the stew of belief-systems, issue-positions, constituencies and donor-interests candidates actually represent.

Mitt Romney’s aides are making the classic mistake of thinking the voters want maturity, serenity and a jolly spirit. What they want is a man who knows what time it is, who has a passion to reform our country, and who yet holds these qualities within a temperament that is mature, serene and jolly.

It’s classic Noonan to speak for “the voters” and for America, BTW. You can’t go too far wrong just regularly translating “they” into “I.”

The second sub-column begins as a meditation on low turnout in the GOP primaries, but quickly turns into mush. She very briefly considers the possibility that there is something about the current Republican presidential field that could be an issue, but then Obama’s SOTU ratings keep dropping (as do all presidents’ over time), and the NFL’s more popular than ever, and Americans (or is that Noonan?) just seem bored with politics, so who the hell knows?

Without even the vaguest pretense of a transition, Peggy the Bored suddenly turns into Peggy the Catholic Culture-Warrior in the third sub-column, an exhortation to the Bishops and their political allies to hang tough against the hateful haters of the White House. Suddenly the detachment is gone, but not the tendency to project her own prejudices onto others without a moment’s self-doubt:

The church must be resolute and press harder. Now is the time to keep pounding—from the pulpit, in all Catholic publications and media, in statements and meetings. For how long? As long as it takes. The president and the more radical part of his base clearly thought the church was a paper tiger, a hollow shell, an entity demoralized and finished by the scandals of the past 20 years.

She ends a million miles away from her beginning, with a cheerleader’s chant: “You can win. Keep the faith. Literally: Keep it.”

So writes one of the most renowned political wordsmiths of my generation.

Jesus wept. Literally.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on February 10, 2012 10:49 AM:

    it's so easy for Noonan to just use the word "scandals" instead of saying "demoralized and finished by the serial raping of young boys over the past 20 years".
    Thanks for the gloss over, Peg.

  • Hedda Peraz on February 10, 2012 10:52 AM:

    As one of my few contemporaries still in "the game", she looks pretty good for an old hag.

  • Scrooge McDuck on February 10, 2012 10:53 AM:

    So, maybe if Obama were a bit jollier, he'll win in November.

    Thanks, Peggy!

  • stormskies on February 10, 2012 11:01 AM:

    She is nothing more than a creation of the media elite, the millionaires made that way by the corporations that hire them to do their bidding, who keep her within the beltway media bubble because they can. She has zero importance to any normal American who has zero idea of who she even is. Of course she considers herself to be important, after all she is part of the media elite who have created her in the first place, so she splutters forth her meaningless crap as if anyone beyond the media elite bubble cares. In reality, no one even listens to her let alone know who she is.

  • Kathryn on February 10, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Mature, serene and jolly, who in the world would that be? Is that how Peggy sees herself?

    And Peggy, have you ever struggled financially, have you ever used birth control back in your day?

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2012 11:03 AM:

    Nooner's blazed the trail that "Their Mr. Brooks" and Ross Douchehat slither along.

    And I have a special soft-spot in my heart for Nooner's. She's like that dimwitted, but opinionated idiotic lush of an Aunt you once had.

    I love her Sunday appearances, where it looks like she just crawled out of some after-hours bar after downing only "tow tiple kodva martooni's, wid tra exolives," and gets on the set and slurs her words, desperately trying to appear both knowledgeable and sober.

    Nooners is a hateful, stupid, and ignorant, hag.

    And the only reason she's on TV, is she has the only known plaster cast of Reagan's 'Ray-gun,' that the lets the other Conservatives can admire.
    And for a price, Nooner's lets them fondle it, worn down as it is from her loving hands, and stained by her tears.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 10, 2012 11:04 AM:

    "Jesus wept"

    That's funny. It takes me back to my days when I was an undergrown weed in the FWB Baptist Church in the northern-most Cackalacka. During Sunday service they'd have the youngins come up to the pulpit and each recite a verse from the Good Book. And, boy, were there a lot of recitations of "Jesus wept". Was that actually a complete verse? I guess it was. The preacher would just move right along to the next kiddie in line.

    Total sidebar, there.

  • biggerbox on February 10, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Spending time dissecting Noonan columns is a bit like picking at a scab. The temptation is great, because of the irritation, but it's something one should really try to resist. It just makes the irritation worse, it doesn't make anything better, and it's a little gross to look at.

  • davidp on February 10, 2012 11:10 AM:

    Someone once described Noonan's style as "treacly." That about nails it.

  • bdop4 on February 10, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Biggerbox: nice analogy. My sentiments exactly.

    I hate Noonan with a passion. She exudes a precious smugness that makes me want to smack her.

    Hence, I stay away from her as far as possible.

  • stormskies on February 10, 2012 11:15 AM:

    meanwhile at the CPAC convention we have McConnell saying this .............

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday painted conservatives as victims of President Barack Obama and other "liberal thugs."

    Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), McConnell said he always loved the event "because conservatives are just simply more fun" than liberals.

    "There's a reason for that, by the way," he explained. "It's because we are always right. Now, the reasons liberals are always wringing their hands all the time -- you notice that? They always wring their hands all the time because they know we've got better arguments than they do. So, they spend half their time trying to convince people what's wrong is right, and the other half looking for conservatives to tear down or CPAC conferences to disrupt."

    The Kentucky Republican continued: "You all know the liberal playbook. Here's how it works: Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it and then polarize it. But rarely have we seen those kind of tactics employed with the kind of zeal that we see today. The White House and it's lieutenants have made an art form out of the orchestrated attack. ... You know the drill. Expose the folks to public view, release the liberal thugs on them, and then hope the public pressure or the unwanted attention scares them from supporting similar causes down the road."

    McConnell went on to accuse the Obama administration of using the resources of the government to "intimidate or silence" its critics.

    "The president seems to have forgotten that he was elected to lead all Americans, that he was elected to be president of the United States, not the Occupy Wall Street fan club!" he exclaimed. "I think the leader of the free world has better things to do than to dig through other people's tax returns."

    "At a time when nearly 13 million Americans are looking for a job and can't find one, I think the president of the United States has higher priorities than picking on Fox News!"


  • Brenna on February 10, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Mature, serene and jolly

    That would be her beloved idol Ronald Reagan. In her mind, he was the quintessential leader to end all leaders.

    She pushes my buttons too. I don't read her columns at all. Her self-importance and "loftiness" is a complete joke. She should retire. Her relevance is long gone.

  • Trollop on February 10, 2012 11:26 AM:

    The plaster cast of Ronnie's Raygun is hilarious. Wow, she does have a way with words and I must say I do like how in all of the proponents minds the Catholic Church was just suffering a "bad day" with the systemic child rape and abuse. Disgusting, but not unexpected!

    Craptcha: yrstab cavities (repeatedly!)

  • T2 on February 10, 2012 11:27 AM:

    old, senile, jolly

  • Robert Nagle on February 10, 2012 11:29 AM:

    "The president and the more radical part of his base clearly thought the church was a paper tiger, a hollow shell, an entity demoralized and finished by the scandals of the past 20 years."

    What evidence does she have that anyone in the Obama Administrator thought the church was a paper tiger, hollow shell, etc....?

    Rhetorically I don't have a problem with Noonan guessing that they "must have thought" this, but using language such as "clearly thought" either is an outright lie, or she is parodying Dittohead paranoia.

  • Margaret on February 10, 2012 11:40 AM:

    Reminds me of her reassuring Republicans that pulling out all stops to save Terry Schiavo was a sure-fire win. Oh, yes, please, Catholic bishops, do what Peggy tells you.

  • revchicoucc on February 10, 2012 11:45 AM:

    @Sgt. Gym Bunny: Yes. It is a complete verse. John 11:35 in the KJV -- "Jesus wept."

    My very favorite complete Bible verse is Romans 1: 31 in the NRSV -- "foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless."

    Sounda like a Republican law firm to me.

  • Ted Frier on February 10, 2012 11:48 AM:


    We share the same pet peeve. I have never been able to stand Peggy Noonan and her Mrs. Cleever pearl necklaces.

    After Republicans flubbed their chances to take the Senate by nominating Christine O'Donnell their candidate in New Jersey I wrote about GOP establishment angst:

    "Peggy Noonan, the Miss Manners of the Republican Party, also weighed in, scolding that a movement of the Great Unwashed can either "help a nation by acting as a corrective, or it can descend into a corrosive populism that celebrates unknowingness as authenticity, that confuses showiness with seriousness and vulgarity with true conviction."

    "Establishments exist for a reason, lectures Noonan. However corrupt they may seem to the unlettered, those who make up a political establishment have experience behind them. "They've lived through a lot, seen a lot, know the national terrain. They know how things work. They know the history." So, the Tea Party must take care lest it becomes "swept by a desire just to tear down, to destroy," says Noonan.

    "I wonder if Tea Party members know how fragile are the institutions that help keep the country together," frets Noonan, who seems to be mumbling as much to herself as to us.

    If Krauthammer and Noonan are worried that an out-of-control populist movement might tear down the Republican Party at this moment of maximum opportunity, they have no one to blame but themselves. Eventually, all revolutions devour their children.

  • Jim H on February 10, 2012 12:06 PM:

    Would that it were her ultimate (I.e., last) column...

  • booch221 on February 10, 2012 12:10 PM:

    Is Peggy is serving up one of her famous corn syrup recipes again?

  • Patrick DeBurgh on February 10, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Peggy Noonan, a lifetimes' supply of smarm in every column !

  • mudwall jackson on February 10, 2012 12:32 PM:

    "Jesus wept"

    and so does everyone who ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. she really gets paid for this? sigh ...

  • Dredd on February 10, 2012 12:38 PM:

    Well said.

    When I hear those Beatle lyrics "he say one and one and one is three" it reminds me of Noonan.

    George F. Will dropped a quandary bomb, a day or so ago, of the sort Noonan would blush about.

  • g on February 10, 2012 12:55 PM:

    Crazy magic dolphin lady. With vodka.

  • Bill Kerwin on February 10, 2012 1:05 PM:

    This column is pretty bad, but I still think the "ultimate" Noonan column is the one in which she channeled the spirit of the recently deceased Paul Wellstone and told us why he would disapprove of the rowdy behavior of his supporters during the memorial service.

    It's almost as good as my absolutely favorite Noonan bit--the bit of memoir in which she talks about Ronnie Reagan's supercute feet:

    "I first saw President Reagan as a foot, highly polished brown cordovan wagging merrily on a hassock. I spied it through the door. It was a beautiful foot, sleek. Such casual elegance and clean lines! But not a big foot, not formidable, maybe a little ...frail. I imagined cradling it in my arms, protecting it from unsmooth roads."

  • Andy Olsen on February 10, 2012 1:08 PM:

    As some former famous scribe once said, "if you can't say anything nice about anyone - come sit next to me!"

    Would be nice if these "I speak for the Mericans" types were confronted on camera to back up how they arrive at assigning all their personal views to the American people.

    Good job, Ed. But do not miss the Wonkette treatment.

  • JW on February 10, 2012 1:12 PM:

    Laugh if you choose, say what you will, but Noonan knows whereof she speaks. I mean, you do realize it was no fluke that she was chosen to break the story of God vectoring dolphins to the rescue of that little Cuban boy, right?

  • Zorro for the Common Good on February 10, 2012 2:02 PM:

    C'mon, Ed, how could you write a (much-deserved) takedown of St. Peggy and not bring up her most infamous moment: her column on Elian Gonzalez and magic dolphins. It's really hard to top that, although I've always loved the column she wrote the same year during the Subway Series where she analogized the Yankees to Democrats and the Mets to Republicans -- as if any team in human history has been more Republican than the Yankees (OK, fine, the Cowboys).

    Anyway, Peggy, you don't speak for The American People. I do. And as their official tribune, I would like to tell you that The American People are sick of your smug moralizing. The American People want you to stop pretending that living in a Upper West Side co-op offers you any perspective on what they think. And above all, The American People want you to put a sock in it.

  • anandine on February 10, 2012 4:00 PM:

    I can't remember where I read an article about things political scientists know that the rest of us don't, but one of them was approximately, whenever someone says the american people (or voters) want, or think, it is invariably false.

  • Rick B on February 10, 2012 4:06 PM:

    @Robert Nagle

    I am working on a theory that conservatives consider belonging to the group and agreeing with them to be more important than having good ideas. In order to belong to the group you have to agree with them. Their ideas are not issues; they are rituals symbolizing the membership in the group. The most extreme version of this is the fundamentalist demand for biblical inerrancy, but the conservative libertarianism is quite similar.

    Liberals don't consider being accepted as depending on repeating the ritual. Quoting group rituals is not as important as being one who contributes to the understanding of the issues. Liberals choose to join groups that match their views on the issues rather than adopting the group view as a requirement of membership.

    I think this also is the difference between evangelical Christian churches and modern churches.

    Noonan, then, has made a career of being an important source of the conservative membership ritual to be repeated by the dittoheads. She was one of Reagan's acolytes so she feels qualified. McConnell feels more comfortable with the dittoheads and feels rejected by the liberals, which is probably a pretty accurate reading of how we feel about him.

    I present this as a hypothesis. I am a liberal, of course.

  • anandine on February 10, 2012 4:07 PM:

    Ted Frier, please don't diss Miss Manners by comparing Peggy Noonan to her. Miss Mannners is the only one of her ilk that I agree with on how to act nearly all the time. She might well agree that Noonan is a douche bag but would not approve of my saying it in public.

  • President Lindsay on February 10, 2012 5:08 PM:

    OMG, I clicked the link and read her dolphin column. I would swear it came from The Onion. For those who've never read it and want a dose of combined incredulousness/disgust/ludicrousness/amazement/depression/laughter, I heartily recommend it.

  • Cullen Athey on February 10, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Unctuous, eh? Well that's the old hag in a nutshell.

  • buddy66 on February 10, 2012 8:07 PM:

    Shouldn't be Noonan translates "I" into "they"?

  • MikeN on February 10, 2012 9:19 PM:


    re:"foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless"

    Santorum, Romney, Paul, Gingrich?

  • RhZ on February 11, 2012 11:57 AM:

    This is a great post, love it!!