The unbearable lightness of Peggy Noonan

I enjoy reading Peggy Noonan because she’s never shy about her point of view. She also writes beautifully.

That said, for every great column, she produces at least two clunkers. Today’s column, with the subtitle of “The unbearable lightness of Obama’s administration,” is particularly bizarre. Here’s the introduction.

He is willowy when people yearn for solid, reed-like where they hope for substantial, a bright older brother when they want Papa, cool where they probably prefer warmth. All of which may or may not hurt Barack Obama in time. Lincoln was rawboned, prone to the blues and freakishly tall, with a new-grown beard that refused to become an assertion and remained, for four years, a mere and constant follicular attempt. And he did OK.

Such impressions—coolness, slightness—can come to matter only if they capture or express some larger or more meaningful truth. At the moment they connect, for me, to something insubstantial and weightless in the administration’s economic pronouncements and policies. The president seems everywhere and nowhere, not fully focused on the matters at hand. He’s trying to keep up with the news cycle with less and less to say. “I am angry” about AIG’s bonuses. The administration seems buffeted, ad hoc. Policy seems makeshift, provisional. James K. Galbraith captures some of this in The Washington Monthly: “The president has an economic program. But there is, so far, no clear statement of the thinking behind the program.”

What a jumbled mess. She sounds like all those journalists who were lecturing Obama early in the campaign that he had no chance of winning if he stayed calm and refused to go negative on Hillary.

She asserts there’s “something insubstantial and weightless in the administration’s economic pronouncements and policies,” when liberals and conservatives recognize that Barack Obama has proposed the most daring and ambitious budget of our generation. Conservatives hate the budget for that very reason – Obama wants to fundamentally change how we meet the challenges of health care, energy and education. Somehow, Peggy Noonan has missed all that, getting distracted by the daily Washington soap opera that plays out on cable TV.

Barack Obama is trying to put out a bonfire cause by years of irresponsible behavior in Washington and on Wall Street. His critics are howling that he hasn’t snapped his fingers and slayed this economic monster with a silver bullet. The bottom line is this – Obama and Bernanke have put together a sensible package of programs that just might get us out of this mess. Of course, Ms. Noonan has nothing to say about the actual substance.

She isn’t comfortable with Obama’s style, probably because she’s been in Washington so long she can’t process anything other than the scripted nonsense of previous administrations. She shouldn’t confuse message discipline with sound policy. Obama is selling his policies on his terms, and he refuses to treat the American people like idiots. Critics might quip that he comes across as “professorial,” but many Americans appreciate a President who doesn’t try to turn every policy proposal into a dumbed-down soundbite.

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