Monday, June 16

First As A Tragedy, Then As A Bunch Of Made Up Shit

HERE'S the thing about that Noonan column ("McCain: Old America: Patriotic/ Obama: New America: Do Your Own Thing") which I spent part of the weekend niggling like a loose tooth: the woman is about three years older than I, and it never occurs to me, reading her, that she could be any less than thirty years my senior. She's the Leon Redbone of political commentary, except without the good material.

It's been so long now that Nooners and her ilk have been paid, and celebrated, for being professionally disingenuous that they must find it impossible to be anything else, assuming there's some reason they'd try.  The requirement of speaking to a new set of circumstances in American political life has proven beyond them, and they've retreated into some stock of half-remembered schoolyard taunts, or, in Peggy's case, into a McGuffey's Reader version of an America she was, in fact, too young by a matter of decades to have actually lived through. By the time Peggy was old enough to think about these things for herself such an America was not just dead, but had died in a collision with Reality: the Great Depression ended the debate over laissez-faire capitalism, WWII ended the debate over racial discrimination, and the Pill had ended the debate over reproductive freedom. All, that is, at least to the extent that it was necessary to accept in some degree that one was a crackpot, or worse, to cling to the contrarian view, just as one must make some sort of accommodation in being a Biblical literalist, anti-evolutionist, or reader of professional reader of pet auras. Noonan, naturally, talks the talk:
In the Old America they were not enlightened about race and sex

because they always do. Admitting that one understands the basis for the destruction of the Old Order is important for appearance's sake, and allows one to maintain the whole thing was a Well-Intentioned Mistake, or a Crazed Act of Mass Trendiness, or the Malicious Vandalism of Nattering Nabobs.

We're not suggesting that "debate" doesn't rage on on all these "issues", just as it does over Evolution. Peggy Noonan may have said goodbye to girlhood in the late Sixties as if leaving the cloister, though she claims a later political awakening (they always do!). She could have found her Old America at the time by looking around, but it's more likely she found it by keeping her eyes closed.

We're close enough in age we may well have used the same history text in high school, and I distinctly remember learning about post-Great War isolationism, labor unrest (not the whole story, mind you), Progressivism, robber baronage, the exploitation of Chinese labor and the New York Draft Riots. I'm pretty sure Eugene Debs, Shay's Rebellion, Abolitionism, the Klan, a bowdlerized Helen Keller and a well-scrubbed Margaret Sanger strode the boards there, too. It can't have taken Peggy much of an effort to realize that what she's describing--regardless of how much of it qualifies as non-fiction--is the artifact of an era--in fact, an mish-mash of eras--which had already begun crumbling by the time she was a girleen. And that, of course, the situation may have looked very different were one observing it through the other end of the social, racial, or economic microscope (or were one a middle-class Catholic schoolgirl at a time or place when that was less than popular).

But the one that frankly stopped me in my tracks was
Old America: We have to have a government, but that doesn't mean I have to love it. New America: We have to have a government and I am desperate to love it.

We've said it too many times to remember, but it seems, if anything, to become even more accurate as time passes them by: this is the result of talking to yourselves for three decades. You've lost the ability to construct an argument and whatever cortical function it is that's supposed to make you care. The damage is, alas, permanent; some of your cohort may manage a fairly normal-appearing life by pretending to support New America and the promise of personal robots and the survival of bodily death. For the rest, hope is at hand: if we can just get you to admit the whole Reagan thing was a canard, and you were never meant to be anything but a cracked minority,  it's possible you may find happiness hating Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the duration of your second childhood.


Anonymous said...

"Liberal America: We have to have a government, but that doesn't mean I have to love it. Conservative: We have to have a government and I am desperate to love it."

Fixed for clarity.

Anonymous said...

Since when did loving the government become an issue? I've been to one world's fair, a picnic and a rodeo and I've never heard anyone, old or new American, say "I love the government!"

You're right, this is pathetic. (It's kind of fitting that she now gives her column a strip-mall wannabe boutique name — "Declarations" — seeing as how it has all the depth of a cup of tasteless suburban muck at Espressions or the like.)

aimai said...

I found the entire essay kind of hard to chew over but the last part, the thing about "loving" your government, is definitely all about their fear that Obama, far from representing a disgusting new form of international anti americanism may actually end up inspiring (however illusory this is its what they fear) a greater love of country and admiration for america than any of their phony idols like reagan and bush ever could.

I thought ten minutes ago "new america" was all self centered and passive and new agey and didn't love anything but itself? Now they are accusing us of a stalinist devotion to a faceless grey government while our recent ancestors (apparently) had a devil may care insuicance about the whole thing? Puh-leese. Peggy and her pals never met a government program they didn't like as long as it took money from taxpayers and gave it to the rich or to corporations and right wing politicians. And they have just spent the last eight years orgasiming over the power of the government as long as it is excercised by angry fly boys, hysterical cow boys, would be frat boys, and the odd kiefer sutherland impersonator.

Its the idea that the government might be associated metaphorically and imagistically with a charismatic, attractive unabashed liberal that has given them the heebie jeebies. Now not content with descrediting the idea of government, they are going to discredit the idea of patriotism because you can't love your country if it includes the blacks and the spics, now can you?

fuck her.


Anonymous said...

Hey aimai, don't hold back, tell us how you really feel.

julia said...

Poor old thing. The shining twinkly God she invented in the image of her Real Daddy faded and dwindled and now nobody even cares that his car was bigger than our daddys' cars.

She's had a series of them, shiny imaginary daddies, and they keep crumbling to dust.

It's gotta be tough. Who's going to forgive her for not being the imaginary daughter she was sure she was going to be able to be now?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it the Old Americans who had that lovely slogan" America, Love It or Leave It?

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Peggy we hardly knew ye. She is here depicted as that odd aunt that comes to every family event and remembers them in that odd aunt way--like it was an entirely different event than the one you attended. The regular cast of characters were there of course but they said things differently and meant something different.

It all jumped the shark for me when Peggy was writing for Dan Rather. I like my Dan unvarnished and scary. Not all Peggy-fied.

Are you still above water?

oh yeah, Rod Paige. I live near Houston and I always forget he is one of the reasons, just one, but an important reason why my students are so goddamn dumb.