We are at a remarkable moment. We have an open, 2,000-mile border to our south, and the entity with the power to enforce the law and impose safety and order will not do it. Wall Street collapsed, taking Main Street’s money with it, and the government can’t really figure out what to do about it because the government itself was deeply implicated in the crash, and both political parties are full of people whose political careers have been made possible by Wall Street contributions. Meanwhile we pass huge laws, bills so comprehensive, omnibus and transformative that no one knows what’s in them and no one—literally, no one—knows how exactly they will be executed or interpreted. Citizens search for new laws online, pore over them at night, and come away knowing no more than they did before they typed “dot-gov.”
It is not that no one’s in control. Washington is full of people who insist they’re in control and who go to great lengths to display their power. It’s that no one takes responsibility and authority. Washington daily delivers to the people two stark and utterly conflicting messages: “We control everything” and “You’re on your own.”
All this contributes to a deep and growing alienation between the people of America and the government of America in Washington.
This is not the old, conservative and long-lampooned “I don’t trust gummint” attitude of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. It’s something new, or rather something so much more broadly and fully evolved that it constitutes something new. The right never trusted the government, but now the middle doesn’t. I asked a campaigner for Hillary Clinton recently where her sturdy, pantsuited supporters had gone. They didn’t seem part of the Obama brigades. “Some of them are at the tea party,” she said.
None of this happened overnight. It is, most recently, the result of two wars that were supposed to be cakewalks, Katrina, the crash, and the phenomenon of a federal government that seemed less and less competent attempting to do more and more by passing bigger and bigger laws.
Add to this states on the verge of bankruptcy, the looming debt crisis of the federal government, the likelihood of ever-rising taxes. Shake it all together, and you have the makings of the big alienation. Alienation is often followed by full-blown antagonism, and antagonism by breakage.
Which brings us to Arizona and its much-criticized attempt to institute a law aimed at controlling its own border with Mexico. It is doing this because the federal government won’t, and because Arizonans have a crisis on their hands, areas on the border where criminal behavior flourishes, where there have been kidnappings, murders and gang violence. If the law is abusive, it will be determined quickly enough, in the courts. In keeping with recent tradition, they were reading parts of the law aloud on cable the other night, with bright and sincere people completely disagreeing on the meaning of the words they were reading. No one knows how the law will be executed or interpreted.
Every state and region has its own facts and experience. In New York, legal and illegal immigrants keep the city running: They work hard jobs with brutal hours, rip off no one on Wall Street, and do not crash the economy. They are generally considered among the good guys. I’m not sure New Yorkers can fairly judge the situation in Arizona, nor Arizonans the situation in New York.
But the larger point is that Arizona is moving forward because the government in Washington has completely abdicated its responsibility. For 10 years—at least—through two administrations, Washington deliberately did nothing to ease the crisis on the borders because politicians calculated that an air of mounting crisis would spur mounting support for what Washington thought was appropriate reform—i.e., reform that would help the Democratic and Republican parties.
Both parties resemble Gordon Brown, who is about to lose the prime ministership of Britain. On the campaign trail this week, he was famously questioned by a party voter about his stand on immigration. He gave her the verbal runaround, all boilerplate and shrugs, and later complained to an aide, on an open mic, that he’d been forced into conversation with that “bigoted woman.”
He really thought she was a bigot. Because she asked about immigration. Which is, to him, a sign of at least latent racism.
The establishments of the American political parties, and the media, are full of people who think concern about illegal immigration is a mark of racism. If you were Freud you might say, “How odd that’s where their minds so quickly go, how strange they’re so eager to point an accusing finger. Could they be projecting onto others their own, heavily defended-against inner emotions?” But let’s not do Freud, he’s too interesting. Maybe they’re just smug and sanctimonious.
The American president has the power to control America’s borders if he wants to, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not and do not want to, and for the same reason, and we all know what it is. The fastest-growing demographic in America is the Hispanic vote, and if either party cracks down on illegal immigration, it risks losing that vote for generations.
But while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about the well-being of the Republicans, who worries about America?
No one. Which the American people have noticed, and which adds to the dangerous alienation—actually it’s at the heart of the alienation—of the age.
In the past four years, I have argued in this space that nothing can or should be done, no new federal law passed, until the border itself is secure. That is the predicate, the commonsense first step. Once existing laws are enforced and the border made peaceful, everyone in the country will be able to breathe easier and consider, without an air of clamor and crisis, what should be done next. What might that be? How about relax, see where we are, and absorb. Pass a small, clear law—say, one granting citizenship to all who serve two years in the armed forces—and then go have a Coke. Not everything has to be settled right away. Only controlling the border has to be settled right away.
Instead, our national establishments deliberately allow the crisis to grow and fester, ignoring public unrest and amusing themselves by damning anyone’s attempt to deal with the problem they fear to address.
Why does the federal government do this? Because so many within it are stupid and unimaginative and don’t trust the American people. Which of course the American people have noticed.
If the federal government and our political parties were imaginative, they would understand that it is actually in their interests to restore peace and order to the border. It would be a way of demonstrating that our government is still capable of functioning, that it is still to some degree connected to the people’s will, that it has the broader interests of the country in mind.
The American people fear they are losing their place and authority in the daily, unwinding drama of American history. They feel increasingly alienated from their government. And alienation, again, is often followed by deep animosity, and animosity by the breaking up of things. If our leaders were farsighted not only for themselves but for the country, they would fix the border.
Posts Tagged ‘Peggy Noonan’
From her blog posted at 4:31pm yesterday, it would appear Peggy Noonan is psychic.
In her advice to Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Noonan instructs, “Do not be defeated by Sebelius’s media coaches. Do not let the secretary’s slightly dazed unflappability get under your skin. All representatives of government are surrounded by communications advisers. Sebelius’s are no doubt advising her right now to do what they always tell officials in trouble to do: Come forth with long, meaningless yet on some level data-filled sentences that will steer clear of speaking plain truth and yet on some level imply the effort to be candid.”
Noonan then provides a hypothetical transcript that bears a striking resemblance to the actual transcript from today’s hearing:
Q: Madame Secretary, did you know or have reason to know the ObamaCare website would crash on opening day? If you did, did you tell the White House? Who in the White House? If you did not know, how did it happen that you, the person in charge of the program, did not understand the depth of its problems?
A: So, we know through historical experience that a vast, multitiered, horizontally integrated program will always yield or produce certain unanticipated challenges of a technological or other nature, which is inevitably and also predictably the pattern, and it’s increased by the scale and size of the endeavor . . .
Q: Let me ask: Did you know that as soon as the program debuted, millions of Americans would see their own health insurance policies canceled or terminated? And that they would often find that newer policies would be more expensive with less coverage? When did you come to understand this—during the writing of the law, after its passage, in the ensuing years? If you did not know that millions would lose their coverage, how did it happen that you did not know?
A: So, in the intervening days and months following the passage of the ACA, a focused task force composed of peer-reviewed stakeholders throughout the government and the private sector, in addition to appropriate designated agency officials, along with contractors and subcontractors . . .
Of course, initial headlines covering the hearing highlight Sebelius’s apology for the failed rollout. Another delightful tidbit making the rounds online is this exchange between Sebelius and Mississippi representative, Greg Harper, in which Sebelius replies to Harper’s insistence that Obama is ultimately responsible with, “whatever.”
Really however, there was nothing new or earth shattering in the testimony. In fact, for those of us who fought Obamacare since its inception, the failed rollout and millions of Americans losing their current plans is not at all surprising. It’s what we always knew would happen.
As was clear in today’s hearing and this week’s coverage, Democrats have seized on our forewarnings of failure as proof that the failure is our fault.
That’s right. Republicans’ mental power is so strong that we can make things come true simply by stating them out loud. If that were the case, President Romney would currently be dismantling the Affordable Care Act, aided by a Republican controlled House and Senate.
No, responsibility for Obamacare—it’s failures and lies—rests fully with the president and congressional Democrats (reason #123 why it’s best to pass massive legislation with bipartisan support).
The Obamacare debate and debacle highlights big government liberalism’s inherent flaw: Overpromising and under-delivering is the only thing government consistently does well. Conservatives recognize this reality and legislate accordingly. Democrats do not. Thus, we knew Obamacare wouldn’t work, while they’re stunned it’s not going smoothly.
In the end, I guess the problems of Obamacare could be blamed on Republicans—despite our wisdom, we failed to defeat the bill.
Peggy Noonan has a great column about our current illegal immigration problem, and more specifically, the problem with our southern border, that will run in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. It is worth the read, and the entire piece follows. I have been a huge fan of Noonan even before I knew it. She was a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and has a beautiful way with words. As is demonstrated in this column, she always makes you think.
Every Independence Day, I try to find something that fits the somber and important nature of that day in 1776. This year, Peggy Noonan nailed it in a Wall Street Journal piece that ran on Friday. I’d have posted it earlier – like on the 4th, but was obviously preoccupied. So here it is… very much worth the read.
In appreciation of our country’s founders and its greatest living historian.
- By PEGGY NOONAN
Monday, July 1, was heavy and hot, and a full-scale summer storm passed through the city late in the morning. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania rose to speak. He knew he was endangering the respect in which he was broadly held, his “popularity,” but he once again counseled caution: Slow down, separation from Britain is “premature,” to declare independence now would be “to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.” When he sat down, “all was silent except for the rain that had begun spattering against the windows.”
Then John Adams rose. He wished he had the power of the ancient orators of Greece and Rome, he said; surely they had never faced a question of greater human import.
He made, again, the case for independence. Now is the time, the facts are inescapable, the people are for it, we are not so much declaring as acknowledging reality. “Looking into the future [he] saw a new nation, a new time, all much in the spirit of lines he had written in a recent letter to a friend: ‘. . . We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.’ ” Outside the wind picked up and the storm struck hard with thunder and lightning. Storms had in the past unnerved Adams, but he spoke steadily, logically and compellingly for two hours.
After nine hours of debate, the voting commenced. The yeses were in the majority, but there were more noes than expected. Someone moved a final vote be taken the next morning. Adams and the rest hastily agreed.
That night word reached Philadelphia that the British fleet, a hundred ships, had been sighted off New York.
The next day, July 2, the final voting began. It went quickly. This was a pivotal moment in the political history of man. A creative, imaginative, historically conscious person in the middle of a thing so huge and full of consequence will try to notice things, to keep them forever in his eyes and pass them on. Here is a thing John Adams would never forget:
At 9 in the morning, just as the doors to the Congress were to be closed, “Caesar Rodney, mud spattered, ‘booted and spurred,’ made his dramatic entrance. The tall, thin Rodney—the ‘oddest-looking man in the world,’ Adams once described him—had been made to appear stranger still, and more to be pitied, by a skin cancer on one side of his face that he kept hidden behind a scarf of green silk. But, as Adams had also recognized, Rodney was a man of spirit, of ‘fire.’ Almost unimaginably, he had ridden eighty miles through the night, changing horses several times, to be there in time to cast his vote.”
All of these quotes are from David McCullough’s “John Adams.” More on Mr. McCullough in a moment.
The vote was completed: 12 for independence, New York abstaining, no one opposing. “The break was made, in words at least: on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence. If not all 13 clocks had struck as one, twelve had, and with the others silent the effect was the same.”
On July 3, Congress argued over the wording and exact content of the formal Declaration. An indictment of the slave trade was dropped. In all, Thomas Jefferson saw roughly 25% of what he’d written wind up on the floor.
On July 4, discussion ended, debate was closed, a vote on the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was called, and the results were as on July 2. Congress ordered the document be printed. They’d sign it in a month. For now, John Hancock and one other, Charles Thompson, fixed their signatures.
Those present thought the great day had been July 2—the vote for independence itself. John Adams, who’d emoted over the 2nd in letters to Abigail, didn’t even mention the 4th , and Thomas Jefferson famously went shopping that afternoon for ladies’ gloves.
But on the morning of July 5, the people of Philadelphia started getting their hands on independently printed copies of the Declaration, and the impact was electric: My God, look what they said yesterday—”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” And on the 6th, a local newspaper carried the text of what had been agreed upon on the 4th. And so the celebration of the Fourth of July as one of the signal moments in the history of human freedom, was born. And so we mark it still.
* * *
On David McCullough: Almost all the details in the above come from his “John Adams” and “1776”. He is America’s greatest living historian. He has often written about great men and the reason may be a certain law of similarity: He is one also. His work has been broadly influential, immensely popular, respected by his peers (Pulitzer Prizes for “Truman” and “John Adams,” National Book Awards for “The Path Between the Seas” and “Mornings on Horseback”) and by the American public. It is not often—it is increasingly rare—that the academy shares the views of the local dry cleaner, the student flying coach and the high school teacher, but all agree on Mr. McCullough, as they did half a century ago on, say, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. He is admired by normal people and esteemed by the intellectual establishment.
Why? Here are a few reasons. He has the eye of a gifted reporter and the depth of a historian. He sees and explains the true size of an incident or endeavor, he factors in, always, the fact that we are human, and he captures the detail that is somehow so telling—it was a scarf of green silk, not soft muslin, that Rodney wore to the vote on American independence. He writes like a dream, of course. He is broad gauged and has range—the Johnstown flood, the building of the Panama Canal, the founders.
Mr. McCullough betrays no need to be contrarian but is only too happy to knock down history’s clichés, to wit George III, the mad doofus, who was in fact “tall and rather handsome” and played both the violin and piano. “His favorite composer was Handel, but he adored also the music of Bach.” He rendered “quite beautiful architectural drawings,” assembled a distinguished art collection, collected books that in time constituted “one of the finest libraries in the world,” loved astronomy, was nonetheless practical, and had a gift for putting people at their ease. He impressed even crusty old Samuel Johnson, who after meeting him called him “the finest gentleman I have ever seen.” As for the famous madness, he suffered not during the American Revolution but later in life from what appears to have been “prophyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century.”
One can’t know if Mr. McCullough is correct in his judgment here, or fully so. One can know he inspected the available data, pondered it, and attempted a fair-minded assessment. He is reliable. (Of how many can that be said?) And he loves America. His work has gone to explaining it to itself, to telling its story.
Almost two years ago, I was lucky enough to tour Mount Vernon with a dozen people including him. (If I were David McCullough I would know the date and time. But I know the weather.) At the bottom of a stairway leading to the second floor, we chatted for a moment, and I asked him how he accounted in his imagination for the amazing fact of the genius cluster that founded our nation. How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor? “I think it was providential,” he said, simply.
Well, so do I. If you do too, it’s part of what you’re celebrating today.
Later, after dusk, an unforgettable moment. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, led by Gay Gaines, retiring after three years as one of its greatest regents—she’d worked herself like a rented mule to solidify and expand the operation—gave us dinner on a long table on the piazza, the veranda overlooking the unchanged Potomac. It is where President and Mrs. Washington dined. It was hot, and now dark, and David McCullough rose to speak of Washington, of his courage and leadership. A storm had been gathering all day. Now it broke, and as he spoke of Valley Forge there was, literally, a sudden roar of thunder, and lightning lit the clouds over the river. Mr. McCullough continued, with his beautiful voice, and we all got a chill: What kind of moment is this? What could we possibly have done to deserve it?
Nothing of course. Some gifts are just given.
That’s what Mr. McCullough’s work has been, a gift, one big enough for a nation. So thanks today to the memory of John and Tom and George, and old Ben, and John Dickinson, and Caesar Rodney too. Good work, gentlemen. You too, David.
Ronald Reagan gave two moving speeches on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. The first was at Omaha Beach and the second was at Pointe de Hoc, where Rangers scaled the cliffs to take out machine gun posts. Both are great speeches, but the Pointe de Hoc is the one I like better (probably because it was written by Peggy Noonan). Below is an excerpt of the moving prose, still inspiring 25 years later and 65 years from the day that changed the course of the War and the course of history.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe de Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor….”
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.