January 24, 2014

A good put-down...

Peggy Noonan, The Sleepiness of a Hollow Legend:

Good snark, (and a great title) but wrong on a deep level...

...The poor speechwriters. They are always just a little more in touch with public sentiment than a president can be--they get to move around in the world, they know what people are saying. They have to imitate the optimism of the speeches of yore, they have to rouse. They are the ones who know what a heavy freaking lift it is, what an impossible chore. And they have to do it with idiots in the staffing process scrawling on the margins of the draft: "More applause lines!" The speechwriters know the answer is fewer applause lines, more thought, more humility and candor. Americans aren't impressed anymore by congressmen taking to their feet and cheering. They look as if they have electric buzzers on their butts that shoot them into the air when the applause line comes. "Now I have to get up and enact enthusiasm" is what they look like they're thinking. While the other party thinks "Now we have to get up too, because what he said was anodyne and patriotic and we can't not stand up for that." And they applaud, diffidently, because they don't want the folks back home--the few who are watching--to say they looked a little too enthusiastic about the guy who just cost them their insurance.

They are all enacting. They are all replicating. They're all imitating the past.

You know when we will know America is starting to come back? When some day the sergeant at arms bellows: "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States" and the camera shows a bubble of suits and one person emerges from the pack and walks into the chamber and you're watching at home and you find yourself--against everything you know, against all the accumulated knowledge of the past--interested. It'll take you aback when you realize you're interested in what he'll say! And the members won't just be enacting, they'll be leaning forward to hear.

And the president will speak, and what he says will be pertinent to the problems of the United States of America. And thoughtful. And he'll offer ideas, and you'll think: "Hey, that sounds right."

That is when you'll know America just might come back.

Until then, as John Dickerson just put it: Barack Obama, Inaction Figure.


I don't actually agree with that "America is starting to come back" stuff. I don't think America is an organism controlled by a central processing unit in Washington. Or in New York. The important changes happen elsewhere, often in places nobody expects them to. This is more true in the Information Age by an order of magnitude.

And if we ever become a country dependent on top-down management, then we are not America anymore.

But this is dead on: "They are all enacting. They are all replicating. They're all imitating the past." When you enter a new age of the world, then every institution needs to change or die. And that change involves two necessary things. One, you must adapt to a new situation, a new way of thinking. Two, you need to remain who you are, in essence.

And the almost-invariable response is to try to do one or the other. You get liberals who want to tear everything apart and rebuild it the image of whatever impressed them when they were in their 20's. And conservatives fighting the liberals and trying to keep things "the way they're supposed to be." Both are wrong. Either response fails.

Posted by John Weidner at January 24, 2014 7:39 AM
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