links for 2009-07-11

Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin: Wall Street Journal Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Yes, Yet Another Peggy Noonan Edition)

A little scene-setting first:

Ronald Reagan's Personal Private Diary[1]: Thur Feb 17 1983:

Jeanne Kirkpatrick reported on her trip to Central America. A grim story. Our Ambas. Hinton under the direction of the same kind of St. Dept. bureaucrats who made Castro possible are screwing up the situation in El Salvador. I'm now really mad. Bill C. is bringing George S. up to date and then I'm determined heads will roll, beginning with Ambas. Hinton...

Ronald Reagan's Personal Private Diary: Thu Jun 9 1983:

Ambas. Hinton just relieved as Ambas. to El Salvador, stopped by. He's a good man and did a fine job under extremely difficult circumstances. I hope he can convince some of our left leaning Congressmen how wrong they are...

As Margaret Thatcher said of Reagan back in 1988: "Poor dear, there's nothing between his ears..." When you fire someone for "screwing up the situation..." you should not four months later talk about how he did "a fine job under extremely difficult circumstances..."

Peggy Noonan, recall, is one of Reagan's biggest boosters--a person who claims to believe that Ronnie Was the Greatest President Evar!

OK, now let's roll the videotape. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on why the Republican Party cannot afford to let itself be led by Sarah Palin:

A Farewell to Harms: Here's why all this matters. The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment. This is a time for conservative leaders who know how to think.... [W]e may face in the next 10 years: a profound and prolonged American crash... deep social unrest; one or more American cities getting hit with weapons of mass destruction from an unknown source... actual secessionist movements [in America].... The era we face, that is soon upon us, will require a great deal from our leaders. They had better be sturdy. They will have to be gifted. There will be many who cannot, and should not, make the cut. Now is the time to look for those who can. And so the Republican Party should get serious, as serious as the age, because that is what a grown-up, responsible party--a party that deserves to lead--would do. It's not a time to be frivolous, or to feel the temptation of resentment, or the temptation of thinking next year will be more or less like last year, and the assumptions of our childhoods will more or less reign in our future. It won't be that way. We are going to need the best.

This is, of course, exactly the argument that the 1970s Republican establishment was making against the insurgents behind their figurehead Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s.[2] Yet is there any consciousness in Peggy Noonan's mind of this thirty-year parallel? Any glimmer of insight or self-recognition of her younger self in the bright young Republican things backing Palin? No. Stupidest human alive.

Which leads me to another issue: Ronald Reagan's and Sarah Palin's substantive command of issues once they get beyond their talking points strike me as very similar--they are both rapidly out of their depth. But there are differences:

  1. Ronald Reagan had memorized a lot more of his lines--knew a lot more talking points--than Palin did.
  2. Ronald Reagan had Hollywood professionals screening his media access.
  3. Ronald Reagan was a 6'1" 190-pound 69 year-old male actor who was playing the character of an establishment president--an authority figure.
  4. Sarah Palin is a 5'4" 130-poound 44 year-old female who looks to be the kind of just-normal-folks character often played by actors like Jimmy Stewart--a moviegoers-should-identify-with-me figure.

If Peggy Noonan would write a column about how much of her different reaction to Reagan and Palin is due to each of these four factors, that would be worth reading.

[1] Douglas Brinkley, ed. (2007), The Reagan Diaries (New York: Harper Collins: 9780060876005)

[2] Take a look at Noonan's critique of Palin. It's pretty much the 1980s Democratic critique of Reagan--true now, and true then:

She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view... and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why. In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them.... She is not working class, never was.... What she is, is a seemingly very nice middle-class girl with ambition, appetite and no sense of personal limits.... America doesn't need Sarah Palin to prove it was, and is, a nation of unprecedented fluidity. Her rise and seeming fall do nothing to prove or refute this.... The elites made her. It was the elites of the party... that picked her and pushed her.... She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated.... [S]he is a ponder-free zone. She can memorize the names of the presidents of Pakistan, but she is not going to be able to know how to think about Pakistan. Why do her supporters not see this? Maybe they think "not thoughtful" is a working-class trope!...