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February 22, 2013 1:07 PM How Uncertainty Killed the Fun at Walmart

By Ed Kilgore

I’m going to try to stick to my resolution not to make dissection of Peggy Noonan columns a weekly habit—even if I have to start a chapter of Noonanholics Anonymous—since it’s like shooting magic dolphins in a barrel. But today’s Peggy includes a bit of strangely masticated conservative economic “thinking” that’s worth some attention.

The column is mostly an extended extrapolation from the patently false premise that Barack Obama is entirely responsible for the fiscal alarms that have periodically roiled Washington ever since Republicans won the House in 2010 and started looking for hostages to their agenda. But never mind; that’s just Peggy showing she’s too big a pundit to need petty things like facts. Here’s the interesting part:

[G]overnment by freakout carries a price. It wears people down. It doesn’t inject a sense of energy, purpose or confidence in those who do business in America, it does the opposite. The other day I was in a Wal-Mart in southern Florida. It was Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend but even accounting for that the mood and look of the place was different from what it was two and five years ago. Then, things seemed dynamic—what buys, what an array of products, what bustle in the aisles. This time it seemed tired, frayed, with fewer families and scarcer employees. It looked like a diorama of the Great Recession. What effect do all the successive fiscal cliffs, ceilings and sequesters, have on public confidence? On the public’s spirit? They only add to the sense that Washington is dysfunctional and cannot possibly help us out of the mire.

Allow yourself a few minutes of chuckling over the spectacle of Peggy Noonan wandering around a Walmart—something she apparently does every few years to get in touch with the peasantry—and focus on what she’s saying here. Fiscal uncertainty has made the scene at Walmart “tired” and “frayed.”

Now there’s a much less ethereal explanation for Walmart’s troubles: the payroll tax increase that Republicans accepted without a peep on January 1 took a bite out of purchasing power, aside from the fact that Walmart shoppers tend to be folk struggling to get along. The overall phenomenon is called “sluggish consumer demand,” which means low-to-moderate income families don’t have enough money. That’s a slightly more tangible and immediate problem than any emotional or spiritual crisis Walmart customers might experience from reflections on the failure of Barack Obama to reach out to Republicans for long-term federal spending cuts, which is what Noonan talks about in the remainder of her column.

Maybe during her next trip to Walmart—scheduled, I suppose, for 2015 or so—Peggy could talk to some actual shoppers instead of projecting her peculiar form of Beltway angst onto the ladies and gentlemen trying to figure out how to clothe and feed themselves and their children. Just an idea.

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.

Comments

  • mudwall jackson on February 22, 2013 1:33 PM:

    if you weren't convinced before that peggy noonan is an absolute maroon, this ought to do the trick. unlike peggy i don't claim to be an expert on wal-mart shoppers, but most are far more concerned what's going on in their everyday lives than to be "weighed down" by the continual flow of fiscal "crises" in washington.

    and if she was in a wal-mart in south florida, odds are pretty damn good that she was surrounded overwhelmingly by obama voters who aren't all that happy with the republican party.

  • c u n d gulag on February 22, 2013 1:34 PM:

    This poor drunken sot is now about 50% alcohol, 40% projection, and 5% each of the spirit disorder called "Reaganomics," and the remaining 5% a lust for the late President Reagan.

    Poor Peg, despite the evidence before this Inspector Clouseau of DC punTWITS, she can't see who the real culprits are - her own, beloved, Republicans.

    Hey Nooners, how about you go to a "Dollar General, or to any othe the other 'Dollar' sto"res, and ask people what they're doing there?
    They'll tell you they either can't afford Walmart prices anymore, or can't afford to drive there, if there's another, cheaper, store closer to them.

    I wonder if one of Friedman's cab-drivers who drove her to Walmart and back?

    Nah, whomIkiddin'!
    It was her limo driver.

    Sadly, even our generation's "Five & Dime" stores are getting too expensive - and penny-candies have been dead and buried for almost two generations.

  • Gandalf on February 22, 2013 1:42 PM:

    The picture in my head of Peggy Noonan prancing around Walmart making mental notes on the depressed state of affairs there makes me laugh uncontrollably. First off if you've ever been to Walmart there's never, I repeat never a festive atmosphere there. most of the people that are there are busy going about thier business. Secondly WTF would Peggy Noonan be doing at Walmart?

  • millsapian87 on February 22, 2013 1:59 PM:

    Maybe during her next trip to Walmart--scheduled, I suppose, for 2015 or so--Peggy could talk to some actual shoppers instead of projecting her peculiar form of Beltway angst onto the ladies and gentlemen trying to figure out how to clothe and feed themselves and their children.

    It's one thing to mingle with the poors at Wal-Mart, but something else entirely to actually speak with them. That would entail acknowledging one's shared humanity with the less fortunate, a quality I find to be lacking amongst these conservative pundits.

  • John on February 22, 2013 2:01 PM:

    I'm still trying to figure out from a column of hers of 3 or 4 years ago, who the identity was of the NYC financial world bigwig who told her in one of her classic and no names mentioned conversations, that everyone is going to have to learn their own food.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 22, 2013 2:02 PM:

    If she really were interested in seeing how the down-trodden shuffle about the local Wally World, she would've went at about 2 AM on a Friday night/Saturday morning. That's when she would have seen a line out the wazoo for all the late night wage-earners cashing their paychecks at register #18. Now that is depressing.

  • John on February 22, 2013 2:05 PM:

    I meant to say in my prior post this:

    I'm still trying to figure out from a column of hers of 3 or 4 years ago, who the identity was of the NYC financial world bigwig who told her in one of her classic and no names mentioned conversations, that everyone is going to have to learn to grow their own food.

  • Bernalese on February 22, 2013 2:06 PM:

    Peggy Noonan feels vibrations at WalMart

  • schtick on February 22, 2013 2:16 PM:

    Ah yes. Good ol Walmart. I remember them so well back in the day. They had all those American flags all over the place and signs saying buy American when all their products were from China. Those were the days, weren't they, Peggy?

  • JSierra on February 22, 2013 2:27 PM:

    "To refute him is to become contaminated with unreality."
    -- Borges, The Avatars of the Tortoise

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 22, 2013 2:42 PM:

    You missed the best part.

    "Washington is dysfunctional and cannot possibly help us out of the mire."

    What a Commie libtard this Noonan is! Who said government was capable of doing anything (OK, OK, do anything but siphon money to defense contractors)?

  • Josef K on February 22, 2013 2:56 PM:

    Personally, I hope she never tries to confront the reality of the country. I doubt she's psychologically or spiritually durable enough to survive it, plus which there are enough gun-totting nihilists running around.

  • FlipYrWhig on February 22, 2013 3:03 PM:

    Cheap products, inattentive service, and a kind of dank squalid hopelessness that settles over you as soon as you walk in the door... that's so unlike Walmart!

  • boatboy_srq on February 22, 2013 3:15 PM:

    everyone is going to have to learn their own food

    I now understand Shrub's appalling grasp of Teh English.

  • Cloudy with a Chance of Intelligence on February 22, 2013 3:25 PM:

    I must express my doubt about Ms. Noonan actually entering such an establishment as Wal-Mart.

    A celebrity such as she, with her obdurate nature and keen eye for self-perpetuating detail, probably felt a glance at the place was sufficient to gleen the mood of the nation as she drove by on her way to more Noonan-Appropriate stores.

  • Mark on February 22, 2013 3:35 PM:

    She should have popped over to Sharper Image; the atmosphere is doubtless upbeat and snappy as you could wish wherever the well-heeled shop. Begone, angst and dull-eyed hopelessness!! Say, do you have that 58" LCD in burnt orange?

  • Chuck on Piggott on February 22, 2013 4:08 PM:

    And after she left Walmart she joined David Brooks at the Applebee's salad bar and compared notes.

  • Decatur Dem on February 22, 2013 6:01 PM:

    Who wouldn't be downcast at the sight of Peggy Noonan cruising the aisles of WalMart in her sedan chair?

  • Marvin on February 22, 2013 7:03 PM:

    It's moms yelling at kids to be quiet or they'll give 'em something to cry about. Always has been, always will. Even in the good old days of February, 2011. smdh

  • exlibra on February 22, 2013 7:24 PM:

    She should have gone to Goodwill, instead of WalMart; all the action has moved there these days, and it's really bustling.

  • grandpajohn on February 22, 2013 8:42 PM:

    Peggy has her niche in life. She exists as a constant reminder to us that life indeed is not fair. In a perfect world,she would be one of those minimum wage,no benefits, WalMart clerks

  • grandpajohn on February 22, 2013 8:43 PM:

    Peggy has her niche in life. She exists as a constant reminder to us that life indeed is not fair. In a perfect world,she would be one of those minimum wage,no benefits, WalMart clerks

  • Sean Scallon on February 23, 2013 2:20 AM:

    I wonder what Chinese-made product she bought there.

  • ELos Demo on February 23, 2013 9:08 AM:

    Peggy Noonan picking up the vibe at Walmat is akin to Ann Romney having concerns about the energy level at a UFC fight.
    Government by freak out hardly describes a situation that is more like Government by Intolerence.
    All of these battles on long term deficit planning have been about the selfishness of the extremely well off. There is only one issue that the Republican party will not discuss, and that is changing the taxation environment for the top 2%.
    Where did all that borrowed money go? Well it seems a trillion went to the military suppliers, contractors, the weapons manufacturers and their shareholders. Check the stock prices on these companies as we come out of war. But men and women made millions on those battles.
    With a tax cut on top of it all. They made a ton of that money on a Carnival atmosphere on Wall Street and in the Real Estate bubble, and the banking chaos . All with a very skewed take environment.
    OK, let's not do that again.
    So let's straighten out the tax mess. Let's recalibrate our expenses. And... Let's get our deficit on a sane path.
    Nobody is freaking out, especially the top earners in the country. They are doing fantastic in the stock market and all they ask for is a deficit solution. Stability.
    It's the non business right wing, the selfish lobby that can't bear the idea of a practical balanced attack on the deficit. They need to try to exploit this for some 20th century Ayn Rand ideological reduction in services to the people. Taxes are historically low, the deficit is historically high.
    Hello.....hello....this is tenth grade stuff.

  • Northzax on February 23, 2013 9:04 PM:

    Actually, a lot of people are freaking out. But they aren't in Wal-Marts in Florida, they're in bars in DC, NoVA, MoCo and PGC. There are a lot of people looking at 20% pay cuts next month, and a lot of people who depend on those people spending. You're looking at probably a 10 percent cut in income from Loudon County to BWI, almost everyone I know is going to be affected somehow. I know it's tough to get sympathy for government folks, I'm not one of them, and they pay my rent!