Peggy’s got it wrong this time

Peggy Noonan’s column today puts forth a promising analogy — I mean, "promising" in the literary sense of presenting a device that looks like it will work in making her point — of a neighborhood with two houses. One is neglected, dilapidated, old, and people are so used to seeing it they don’t even notice it any more. The other is still under construction, a source of excitement, the cynosure of eyes.

The old house is the Republican Party with John McCain at its head, the other is the Democratic. The analogy only works, of course, if Obama gets the Democratic nomination — hard to see anyone looking upon a Clinton candidacy, which would certainly be a rehash of old battles, as fresh and new. But Ms. Noonan glosses over that part, because it’s not her point.

Her point is, what does McCain need to do to get people excited about him? And her answer, or rather her suggestion of what is missing, is ideology… no, wait — she says it’s "philosophy," and she believes there’s a huge difference: "Not an ideology—ideology is something imposed from above, something
abstract dreamed up by an intellectual. Philosophy isn’t imposed from
above, it bubbles up from the ground, from life." Yeah, OK. So which is "a thousand points of light?" The latter, I suppose — or neither.

Perhaps I should quote that entire passage:

In the most successful political careers there is a
purpose, a guiding philosophy. Not an ideology—ideology is something
imposed from above, something abstract dreamed up by an intellectual.
Philosophy isn’t imposed from above, it bubbles up from the ground,
from life. And its expression is missing with Mr. McCain. Political
staffs inevitably treat philosophy as the last thing, almost an
indulgence. But it’s the central fact from which all else flows. Staffs
turn each day to scheduling, advance, fundraising, returning the
billionaire’s phone call. They’re quick to hold the meeting to agree on
the speech on the economy. But they don’t, can’t, give that speech
meaning and depth. Only the candidate can, actually.

Philosophy is the foundation. All the rest is secondary, a quick one-coat paint job on a house with a sagging roof.

Anyway, one thing that neither McCain nor any candidate I would support needs is "philosophy." Please, Lord, spare us another Reagan. And no "kinder, gentler," either.

For me, the foundation is character, and all the rest is secondary, with "philosophy" coming somewhere near the rear of the procession.

John McCain believes in America, and the ideas that undergird it, that lift it up above mere nationalism as practiced through most of modern history. He has gone to the mat, and far beyond, for his country, and will never fail to do so in the future. Take that, and throw in a leavening of Teddy Roosevelt-style reformism, and you’ve got John McCain. Don’t give me any more philosophy, beyond the old-fashioned kind of "conservatism" I have previously extolled. It’s a kind of conservatism that gets bored or even impatient with talk of "philosophy," like a crusty old guy who knows who he is in a roomful of people discussing the latest fashions.

(Ms. Noonan objects to Mr. McCain’s fondness for Hemingway. But let
me quote Hemingway, and address it toward her call for
"philosophy:"Let’s not talk about it… You’ll lose it if you talk
about it.")

The older I get, the more I like candidates with characters I can trust — honor, integrity, a moral sense — who want to do what works to make the world better, without the taint of ideology. You might say, don’t you need philosophy to define "better," and I would say most of us would recognize it if they saw it. We’re talking pragmatism. Look at comprehensive immigration reform. It pleased no political philosophy, but just happened to be the one approach that makes common sense (a point Ms. Noonan acknowledges, while failing to see how pragmatic and unphilosophical it was). Comprehensive reform means you look at the whole problem, and consider all the practical angles, not just those pleasing to a philosophy.

Yes, some would object (on philosophical grounds, no less) to some of my definitions of "better," definitions I believe McCain shares. McCain is rooted in the American Century, and in his own life got a bellyful of what it’s like for this nation to be "humbled" over its foreign actions. I see another, greater American Century — one in which our nation is truly engaged in the rest of the world, diplomatically, economically, in humanitarian terms and yes, militarily — as vastly preferable to, say, a Chinese Century. Or a century in which the whole world slides back away from liberalism (in the geopolitical sense, not the way it’s misused in our domestic politics), a victim of chaos and distrust sown by atavistic impulses.

Whoa, I’m getting dangerously close to "philosophy" here. Best back off and say that I’d rather vote for somebody I trust, period.

14 thoughts on “Peggy’s got it wrong this time

  1. weldon VII

    “Please, Lord, spare us another Reagan.”
    Actually, Brad, another Reagan is exactly what we need, if McCain or Obama could just be that.
    Come to think of it, McCain’s positions with Obama’s personality might be just the ticket.
    How do we make that happen?

  2. Doug Ross

    McCain’s approach to immigration reform hardly made any sense. By calling opponents of the reform racists, he shot himself in the foot and had to eventually admit that the issue was really about the rule of law, not about Mexicans.
    Now he refuses to even answer the simple question as to whether he would still vote for the bill he sponsored. That’s character? Character is sticking with your principles, not abandoning them in order to win a political office. That’s exactly what McCain did.
    Americans don’t want people who entered the United States illegally to have an easy path to citizenship. Americans don’t want to deport every illegal immigrant, they want the laws enforced against companies who hire them so that they will leave on their own. It’s already happening in locations all around the country that are enforcing basic laws related to hiring illegal immigrants.
    McCain also demonstrated his character by signing a loan agreement for his campaign in which he explicitly stated he would continue to campaign even if he was hopelessly out of it in order to get public funds to pay off the loan. That’s character?
    And if character means accepting the warm embrace an endorsement of the President whose operatives defamed him and his family, then I guess I don’t have a good idea of what character is. Character is about steadfast principles, not political games.
    But I guess we set the character bar lower for politicians than we do for “real” people.

  3. bud

    Of all the many dozens of candidates who have run for office from both the major parties John McCain is easily the most disappointing, especially when it comes to the issue of character. I really liked John McCain in 2000. He seemed to be the real deal, a true man of conviction, an honorable man with high ideals. But during the last 3 or so years it has become clear that McCain is nothing but a self-aggrandizing old fool who thinks only about John McCain and his ambition to become president. How else can you explain the unexplainable decision to vote in favor of torture after decades of openly criticizing the practice?
    Yet people in the press, especially Brad, ignore all the inconsistencies and downright moral shortcomings of this man. We’ve listed the many, and I do mean many, character flaws of this man. Yet Brad continues to promote him as a man of character. Why? It is simply beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend how someone can so thoroughly ignore the obvious: John McCain is not a man of character, rather he is a man of unbridled ambition for himself, not his country.

  4. weldon VII

    You’re right about at least one thing, Bud. Running for president is ambitious.
    But how could you imagine that a “self-aggrandizing old fool” could deceive enough people to win the Republican nomination for president?
    Self-aggrandizing? Maybe. Old? Pretty much. But a fool? It’s hard to imagine a fool surviving McCain’s ordeal as a prisoner of war and serving for decades in the Senate.

  5. Lee Muller

    You can’t have good character without a good philosophy of life. You can’t know someone’s character without knowing their real philosophy to compare to how they act.
    We know that Hillary has never renounced here socialism of younger days, and we have seen her lack of character in all the scandals where she only avoided prison because so much evidence vanished and so many witnesses were shot to death.
    Obama tries to hide his philosophy, but we have a small record of his voting record, the most radically socialist in the Senate. We are beginning to get glimpses into his lack of character as he spins every week’s latest outrageous vemon from the mouth of his wife, pastor, campaign advisors, supporters like Farrakan and sleazy slumlords.

  6. bud

    we have seen her lack of character in all the scandals where she only avoided prison because so much evidence vanished and so many witnesses were shot to death …
    Or, as is more likely the case, it is possible that’s she’s actually inocent since nothing has ever been proven dispite millions of dollars spent to investigate her.
    Also, so what if she was a socialist in her younger days. There’s no crime in that. Even if that’s true she has nothing to renounce. I know this is hard for you to understand Lee but we live in a free country and it’s not a crime to think in a certain way. In the case of John McCain he’s apparently changed his mind on the torture issue and I find that disgusting. However, in this free country there is no need for him to renounce his previous position that torture is wrong.

  7. Lee Muller

    Hillary was involved with criminals her entire life,
    from communist bombers ( later pardoned by Bill),
    to defending murderers for the Communist Party USA,
    to Whitewater (Bill fired the prosecutor and Reno let the statute of limitations expire),
    to the law firm billing scandal (partner Web Hubbel went to prison)
    to the $20,000,000 in illegal ChiCom campaign donations ( her staffers plead guilty)
    to the $6,000,000 FEC swindle ( her chief went to jail)
    to selling visits to the White House,
    to her $10,000,000 book advance from Vicom,
    to the killing of Vince Foster as he went on a lunch errand to pick up airline tickets home,
    to the stealing of Foster’s papers (obstruction of Justice),
    to the killing of 6 witnesses against her and Bill.
    Hillary has never renounced or apologized for any of it.
    Anyone who paints Hillary as innocent or honest is either terribly ignorant or just doesn’t care about honesty and character in Their Leader.

  8. Richard L. Wolfe

    Bud, Hillary could never be president because she has no memory. How many times did she testify before the Senate with the words I do not recall?

  9. bud

    This started out as a post about John McCain. Why don’t you Hillary and Obama bashers address the subject of the post and not continue with all the vile nonsense about the Dems. Lee, you still haven’t answered who you really want to become president. Frankly it’s pretty shallow to continue to bash the various candidates, without any credible evidence I might add, without stating with positive conviction who YOU want as president. Unless you can address that reasonable question please shut the hell up.

  10. Lee Muller

    I don’t want McCain, Hillary or Obama. McCain is another progressive Rockefeller Republican like Bush. At least he is pro-American and realistic about our Muslim enemies.
    But Hillary and Obama are unapologetic socialists, who want to destroy America as a force for bringing free markets and republican government to the rest of the world. They both support a socialist world government, with no middle class.
    Both of them left a trail of very credible evidence in the form of what they have written and spoken on this very subject. Any voter who is unaware, needs to become aware.

  11. bud

    This is old news perhaps, but given Brad’s ongoing character claims regarding John McCain it’s worth mentioning again. During the Lewinsky scandal McCain made this comment:
    “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
    Because her father is Janet Reno.”
    That is beyond the pale. Why, oh why, does Brad continue to insist this crazy old man is a man of character?

  12. bud

    We have this cost:
    Of the 1.7 million service members with recent combat experience, some 800,000 are now veterans entitled to VA health care and benefits. Of those, 300,000 have had treatment; 40 percent were diagnosed with a mental health problem, more than half with PTSD, according to Veterans Affairs figures released as a result of a lawsuit by Veterans for Common Sense, a nonpartisan veterans advocacy group. Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director, says the patient figure could eventually reach 700,000. A recent Harvard University study says taxpayers’ cost for the care of injured veterans will run up to $700 billion.
    -Veterans for Common Sense
    to produce this outcome:
    “Under Saddam’s regime, we had limited salaries but we had security and decent services. Now, we have decent incomes but we lose it all to water, propane, groceries, fuel. We save nothing,” said Balqis Kareem, 46, a Sunni Muslim housewife who lives in the predominantly Shiite Muslim district of Karrada. “This government gives with the right hand and takes away with the left.”
    -Mcclatchy Washington Bureau
    And the GOP candidate for president wants another 100 years of this. Why does anyone support this man? It’s time to stop the madness and bring our troops home, now!

  13. Lee Muller

    You can find ex-Nazis who will tell you how good things were under Hitler, or Russians who pine for a return to dictatorship, too.

  14. Lee Muller

    The Democrats just passed another tax increase to help push us into recession. While handing out small election “tax rebates” even to people who pay no taxes, they repealed the $600 BILLION 2001 tax cuts which brought us out of the 2000 Clinton Recession, which was brought on by Clinton increases the personal income tax from 28% to 42%.
    Obama and Clinton are poison. The mere prospect of their election is driving investors out of stocks.
    McCain’s advisors are right to want to cut the US corporate income tax rate from 35% to 25%. It is the highest in the world, driving business overseas.
    The Alternative Minimum Tax needs to be abolished.
    Double taxation of corporate profits and dividends needs to be eliminated.
    Estate taxes need to be abolished.
    Property taxes need to be abolished.
    Otherwise, our manufacturing will continue to move overseas.

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