As is her wont Peggy Noonan is again analyzing the unraveling of the American character. One cannot help but agree with her appraisal of the nation’s ethical fiber.
This is big picture stuff, and, for my part I like big picture stuff.
Noonan surveys the current scene and points up signs of moral laxity. She cites the GSA’s arrogant debauchery, the Secret Service’s arrogant debauchery, and the TSA’s eroticized patdowns. For good measure she mentions flash mobs that attack stores and individuals while laughing about it, and adds the arrogant debauchery of New York schoolteachers.
Noonan is too judicious to offer an explanation for why this is all happening at this time in this place.
If suffices that she identifies the problem. It would take a more foolhardy soul to suggest a cause.
A group of people does not suddenly embrace bad behavior. It takes a culture; it takes time to cultivate the kind of bad attitude that allows people to behave badly and to be proud of it.
Those who are wiser than your humble blogger will explain that corrupt ideas are coursing through the ambient discourse, producing bad behavior.
Under the twin banners of self-esteem and sexual liberation American schoolchildren today are being trained in the fine art of arrogant debauchery.
But, when the debauchery begins to manifest itself in the bad behavior of government officials, that is, in people who should know better, we can do better than to denounce bad ideas.
In order to produce a culture of bad behavior you need leadership. Someone must set the example and define the policy.
As I say, Noonan is too modest to say it but the crisis in American character, the loss of moral temperament, the new culture of disrespect is the cultural consequence of the Age of Obama.
Why does Noonan overlook this obvious point? Perhaps because she wrote glowingly of Obama in 2008. I do not know whom she voted for, but Noonan certainly provided the rationale for voting for Barack Obama.
In late October, 2008 Noonan seemed to have bought the hope and change snake oil:
He [Obama] has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.
Unfortunately, she was blinded by the light and duped by the rhetoric. Noonan flat-out misjudged Obama.
She and David Brooks and many other right thinking people bought the idea that Barack Obama would bring the nation together, would be a force for conciliation and moderation, and would relieve American guilt for the dual sins of slavery and segregation.
Four years ago such thinking was all the rage. It was wrong then. It is wrong now. It is frankly idiotic to imagine that a therapeutic cleansing of America's sins was going to solve the financial crisis. Those who pushed it should take some responsibility for having helped put a divisive, demagogic, hardline leftist in the White House.
Presidential elections are not about expunging guilt. They are about choosing someone who will steer the ship of state in the right direction and set a standard that others will want to emulate.
One is shocked to read what the normally sober George Will wrote about Obama. He called Obama:
…an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic "fights" against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.
That statement is a monument to poor judgment. If you want to know what a dupe sounds like, reread this sentence from George Will.
Obama has proven to be exactly what Will said he wasn’t—an inexperienced adolescent, out of his depth and in over his head, having no idea of how to govern, reduced to picking divisive fights with enemies real and imagined.
We know what this looks like when it is played out by the president on the evening news. When it filters down into the bureaucracy it produces aberrations.
Speculation aside, if we examine the bad behaviors that Noonan cites, how many of them involve members of Obama’s core constituencies?
An awful lot of the most recent scandals involves government employees. Some are able to indulge their arrogant debauchery because they are protected by labor union contracts. Others have taken leave of their moral sense because they know that the Obama administration is on their side.
When it comes to promoting civility or even enforcing laws, the Obama administration is perfectly divisive. If labor unions act like thugs or if the New Black Panther Party intimidates voters or issues death threats, the Obama administration has nothing to say. If anyone on the other side of the political spectrum did as much, it would be denounced and prosecuted.
After a while, the message gets out: if you belong to a union or a minority group, or if you work for the government, the Obama administration has your back.
The Obama justice department is spending its time covering up Operation Fast and Furious and ignoring the New Black Panther Party. In its spare time it is prosecuting Roger Clemens and pronouncing George Zimmerman guilty.
Those who want to be more intellectual about it will say that the nation has a larger problem… the Obama administration’s will to enlarge and empower government.
Of course, denouncing big government feels a bit off the mark. The Obama stimulus was designed to empower and enrich government bureaucrats. And, apparently, to protect them from scrutiny.
The Obama administration has been a godsend for anyone who is working in government. For everyone else, not so much.
Of course, it’s not just about the money. It’s really about virtue.
Big government progressives put their faith in government because they believe that government employees are more virtuous, thus, more dedicated to the public good. Anyone who is not motivated by profit and does not have to answer to market forces must hold a monopoly on civic virtue.
That was not the way that intellectuals saw it. They believed that the Age of Obama would see the rise and empowerment of the thinking class, the sophisticated intelligentsia and cognoscenti whose influence had waned during the big, bad Bush administration.
Like government officials, intellectuals are supposed to be immune to the temptations of greed, as embodied in corporate profits, because they are called to serve the world of great ideals: truth, justice, beauty… whatever.
They do not have to compete in the marketplace, in the arena, or even on the battlefield, so they are purer, cleaner, more virtuous than the rest of us.
Of course, this is short-sighted.
One can retort that good character involves discipline and that bureaucrats and intellectuals lack the discipline that would be imposed by the market. They do not have to generate profits; they need merely to help elect politicians who will keep them on the job. Immunized from the market, they are more likely to get caught up in their own thinking and more likely to be blinded by their own arrogance.
And then, if their dear leader is a monument to human arrogance, a man who is so full of self-esteem that he believes that he never makes a mistake and who knows that, no matter what, the media will always have his back.
Noonan is correct to say that American character is in crisis. She would have done better if she had named the individual who had led the nation to this impasse.