Embarrassing the Angels
Peggy Noonan stretches out her act
© 2016 Gage Skidmore, used under a Creative Commons license
Unexpectedly I find myself coming back to Peggy Noonan a lot lately. I used to have fun with her years ago, when I nominated her The Crazy Jesus Lady for her bizarre religious effusions — Elian and the Dolphins, the Face of The Evil One on 9/11 and all that, but also for that air of sanctity she wafted over everything, as when she declared in 2006:
“You are embarrassing the angels.” This is what I intend to say for the next 40 days whenever I see someone who is hurting the culture, hurting human dignity, denying the stature of a human being. I mean to say it with belief, with an eye to instruction, but also pointedly, uncompromisingly. As a lady would.
She wasn’t talking about people being cruel to the homeless and the downtrodden, by the way — she was talking about “blaring television ads for birth-control devices, feminine-hygiene products, erectile-dysfunction medicines,” and having to take her shoes off at the airport.
Noonan reminded me there, as often those days, of a deranged bag lady, howling gibberish at passers-by — except instead of being run off by the cops she was lauded and lavished with big bucks and journalism prizes. With other exalted rightwing writers, however little I thought of their prose or reasoning, I at least understood their appeal — Glenn Reynolds flattered conservatives because he was a college perfesser but had, like them, the soul of a Klansman; Jonah Goldberg made them feel good about having only shitty arguments because, like them when called on by a teacher, he babbled and bullshat and amused the boys in the back row, etc.
In other words, I could see how their fans saw themselves in those writers. But I couldn’t quite get the appeal of Peggy Noonan. Were there really that many brittle, toffee-nosed upper-class self-announced “ladies” around who regarded all social phenomena as through a Margaret Dumont lorgnette?
Over time I stopped even paying attention to her, and for a while in this venue she’s been used mainly as a comic character in sketches — Miz Noonan at the Rectory and so forth. But I notice, paging through the posts, that there are a number of them in which I actually treat what she’s written.
In one such from 2021, specifically about how the old-time Republicans were bouncing back from Trump — including those, like Noonan, who insisted that he was merely an anomaly — I find a clue as to why I started to find her interesting again: She has retrofitted her pietistic tone to accommodate the overt viciousness of Trump-era conservatism. For example, in the Noonan column under consideration she noted sourly that these days people think “you don’t really have to work anymore, or if you don’t like your job you don’t have to stay until you get a better one; you can just leave and one way or another get the support you need through benefits, programs and government assistance.” I observed:
Dame Noonington loved the American People once upon a time, when they were working their asses off for a non-rising wage while billionaires fattened off their labor; but now that all of them (except the saving remnant, who will send in laudatory Letters to her Editor) are accepting Biden’s pittances to tide them over a worldwide social and financial disruption, they’re just a bunch of bums.
This week Noonan has a new column, and it’s a doozy. Sample:
He is a nut but can’t be dismissed as only that. He is also wicked in that he has for decades abused all around him by waging war on reality. He has stolen, from all who had dealings with him, including voters, a sense of what is true.
She could be talking about any Republican, couldn’t she? But, haha, you’ve already guessed, she’s talking about the GOP’s Judas Goat, George Santos International Man of Mystery. He lies! He misbehaves! It embarrasses the angels! McCarthy et alia must get rid of him for the sake of Peggy’s tender feelings:
If they can’t do the right thing they should at least be practical. He will be used relentlessly by the Democrats, and the media, to make the Republican conference look like a cabal of fraudsters.
But Peggy, they are a cabal of fraudsters!
Noonan dudgeons in this mode awhile but eventually gets back to hitting those who have become the true villains in her tale of America Degraded — The American People. But it’s an indirect strike; she, personally, thinks very highly of the American People, in her own backhanded way:
It happens to be my feeling, my observation that the wilder America becomes, the more it wants its political class to be stable, mature — normal.
They’re all goin’ wild out there, friggin’ and frugin’, taking dope, going trans! And that’s why they need — and know they need, Noonan intuits — sober daddies who know how to act normal and read a script like Ronnie used to — notwithstanding that (the Republican ones, anyway) no longer seem to actually vote for such proper daddies.
There are political professionals who believe the opposite, that a lot of Americans are acting up, everyone’s high and living irregular lives, and people don’t mind if their representatives channel their strangeness; in fact, they like it.
Hold up hold up hold up —who thinks that? Even someone like me who thinks Republicans exploit the worst in their fellow men as a matter of course doesn’t think it has anything to do with their voters being “high” and “irregular” — what the hell does that even mean? Is Noonan still mad there are boner pill ads on TV?
You can’t look at our politics and not know there is something to this view.
Like hell I can’t.
There was a congresswoman a few years ago who got in trouble when, amid a messy divorce, accusations were made and pictures leaked. She was walking around with no clothes on and holding a bong and combing a staffer’s hair. It was a mess. She resigned. I’m not using her name as my personal tribute to her doing the right thing in the end. Maybe she was thinking: People don’t really want their representatives to be “just like us.” They want them to be “better than us.” They really want a certain dignity.
Well, I will use her name (Katie Hill) because everyone knows who she is, and because she as much as said she quit, as the New York Times reported, not for the airy italicized bullshit reasons Noonan gives but because that revenge-porn attack on her, weaponized by rightwing douchebags, made her position as former Democratic Rep. for California’s 25th CD untenable solely because she was a woman: “I’m leaving,” she said at the time. “But we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence and remain in boardrooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body and, worst of all, in the Oval Office.”
Hill later sued on revenge porn grounds and lost and went bankrupt. It doesn’t surprise me that Noonan would act as if she were doing Hill rather than herself a favor by lying about her.
Then the final indignity:
Democrats love the George Santos story — more humiliation for the Republicans. Republicans hate it —he may be a bum but he’s our bum. Neither is thinking seriously about it.
BOTHSIDES! But what are Democrats supposed to do that would be “serious”? Maintain a discreet silence, like a father wordlessly pushing a loaded revolver across a table to his dissolute rapscallion son so he’ll do the right thing without making a fuss?
As for the Republicans, they’ll make a decision based on what they think works, neither swayed not shamed by the nannying of Noonan and her embarrassed angels. But, to my continued astonishment, there will apparently always be a constituency that prefers to think otherwise.