Political Animal


December 28, 2012 4:03 PM We Were Doing My Best

By Ed Kilgore

I am considering as one of my New Year’s resolutions a pledge to ignore Peggy Noonan, as readers have often urged after viewing one of my occasional tirades about the glossalalia she regularly writes or types or dictates by way of buttressing her position as one of America’s leading pundits. Nobody takes her seriously, I’m told. Mocking her is lazy, it seems, since it takes far less effort than thinking about shooting fish in a barrel. Yes, her wisdom is regularly exposed to millions via the Wall Street Journal and various television shows, and her income per actual thought is surely staggering. But leave her be.

Before resolving to do so, though, I do have to note her final column of 2012, if only in fairness to Margaret Carlson, whose own end-of-the-year column—a model of deep thinking, hard work and clarity by comparison—I mocked earlier today.

Noonan’s valedictory for this election year is framed in the familiar style of a self-assessment of her various predictions and pronouncements. Or at least I think that’s what she’s doing, since for mysterious reasons she switches from the royal “we” to “I” about halfway through the column, and then alternates usages from there on out. It’s particularly interesting given this stab at an insight about the conventions:

I didn’t mention something that occurred to me a few weeks later: The party conventions revealed something essential about each party’s nature. The Republicans are all for individualism and entrepreneurship, for freedom, but some of their speakers were too entrepreneurial—they were in business for themselves. They told their own stories, lauded their own history—a whole lot of I, I, I. They didn’t speak enough about Mr. Romney or the party, which seems as an institution to garner little loyalty even from its stars. The Democrats, on the other hand, were more communal. There was a lot of “us” and “we”—we are together, we are part of something, we are united, we are Democrats.
The “we-ness” of the Democrats would seem more attractive to a lot of voters in modern, broken-up America. I wish I’d noted that here.

We do, too.

It would be nice to report some genuine humility from Noonan about her powers of interpretation during her vast body of election commentary, but if it exists it is buried in incoherence. After deciding in retrospect that the Obama campaign’s “Martian” use of technology—which she dismissed as weird and even laughable back when she wrote about it earlier—actually “won the election,” she goes on to cite multiple other big moments and turning points. She even boasts of her extraordinary prescience on the game-changing importance of the First Presidential Debate:

We were right, and early, about the significance of the first presidential debate. We signaled in advance that it might be a bad night for Mr. Obama because four years in, presidents are no longer used to being challenged. They don’t like it when they are, and they often respond poorly.

Without missing a beat, she then touts her criticisms of Romney, who somehow squandered the victory guaranteed by the first debate—but not before creating false hope for Peggy:

On Nov. 5 we said we thought Mr. Romney was sneaking up on Mr. Obama, that we had a feeling he would win. We were all focusing on data, but maybe a surprising outcome was quietly unfurling around us: the building rallies, a steadied campaign, an improved candidate, the air of momentum …
It turns out, and I’m sure you’ve noticed this, that the numbers, the data—at least the data Democrats had—was right. What was it somebody said? “I’ll be smiling soon as the swelling goes down.”

Lord have mercy. After puzzling over that passage, the reader gets to the coda:

Lesson? For writers it’s always the same. Do your best, call it as you see it, keep the past in mind but keep your eyes open for the new things of the future. And say what you’re saying with as much verve as you can. Life shouldn’t be tepid and dull. It’s interesting—try to reflect the aliveness in your work. If you’re right about something, good. If you’re wrong, try to see what you misjudged and figure out why. And, always, “Wait ‘til next year.”

And for God’s sake, hire an editor. Make it a New Year’s Resolution for yourselves.

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.


  • Josef K on December 28, 2012 4:22 PM:

    Or at least I think that’s what she’s doing, since for mysterious reasons she switches from the royal “we” to “I” about halfway through the column, and then alternates usages from there on out.

    Sounds like faulty programming to me. That, or some of the cogs in her internal mechanisms are finally worn out and she's...well, breaking down. How else do you explain her writing how the Obama campaign's use of new technologies was at once alien and successful, and thus to be feared, and then add this:

    "...keep the past in mind but keep your eyes open for the new things of the future..."

    Again, faulty programming or mechanistic breakdown? Or is it just a sign that the punditry of this country has become too inbred to function rationally anymore?

  • c u n d gulag on December 28, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Methinks the old toothless, gin-soaked barroom queen in DC, confuses "verve," with vermouth.

    Which, to be honest, she might be better off asking for more of, as opposed to the gin, in her 'gouble min dartooni's - with oxtra elives. Staken, not shirred.'

    'Peg O' My Fart,' if you can't handle the booze, "Just Say, NO!"

  • Helen Bedd on December 28, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Nooner forgot to mention all the yard signs she saw [and wrote about just before the election]


  • Anonymous on December 28, 2012 7:49 PM:

    Oh good, now we can look forward to "we' becoming a empty conservative buzz word, the way "family values' and "patriotic" have gone.

  • biggerbox on December 28, 2012 9:29 PM:

    "We"? Is Peggy's martini glass talking to her again?

  • Robert Waldmann on December 29, 2012 1:07 AM:

    The data shows that the word "data" are plural too.

    The really impressive use of "we" is "Mr. Romney was sneaking up on Mr. Obama, that we had a feeling he would win. We were all focusing on data, ". First the royal "we" which means "I" then after 6 words, a period and a double space the patronizing "we" which means "you" or they or in any case people other than Noonan (or hell one person for all we know since our head is spinning).

    Also weronic (the royal "irony" there) that she uses "we" and "I" as if they were interchangeable so soon after the paragraph on "I" at the Republican convention vs "we" at the Democratic convention.

    All I can say is that the nays must have it cause the "I"s have clearly lost it.

    Please don't stop now. The Saturday Night live writer who got the text for the Tina Fey parody of Sarah Palin from the transcript didn't have to think about shooting fish in a barrel either, but it was funny all the same.

  • mudwall jackson on December 29, 2012 7:49 AM:

    the most astounding thing to me is that she gets paid for this crap. must have incriminating pictures of the editor.

  • Jamey on December 29, 2012 8:01 AM:

    Sounds like Nooners could stand a semester or two in David Brooks's humility 101 course at Yale.

  • AndrewBW on December 29, 2012 2:45 PM:

    I'm no fan of the Peg's, but if you have to ignore someone I'd much prefer you resolve to ignore Megan McArdle. Please!

  • smartalek on December 29, 2012 6:10 PM:

    @ Rob't Waldmann:
    "Weronic, " and its presumptive backformation, "werony," is a work of brilliance... singular brilliance, even.
    Thank you for that.
    Best wishes for the coming year to everyone.