Peggy Noonan was on Meet The Press yesterday, commenting on the state of the political race and hawking her new book, which is called “Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now”, which (of course) she believed was germane to that discussion.
I haven’t read the book, but according to Noonan, “patriotic grace” is essentially the capacity to put previous disagreements aside and work together to solve the overwhelming problems the country faces in our times. Politicians need to stop personally attacking one another, and they need to let bygones be bygones (in the form of not pursuing investigations into the misdeeds of the other party) in order to proceed to the bipartisan promised land. We need patriotic grace now because our problems are so pressing that no other course is possible.
This insight is certainly noble, but it would be a lot more convincing coming from someone who hadn’t produced some of the worst of the sort of smear-mongering she decries ("The Case Against Hillary Clinton" is a classic of the genre), and hadn’t been a significant cheerleader for the party that has been breaking new ground in the art of the politics of personal destruction since she was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan thirty years ago.
From Noonan, appeals to “Patriotic Grace” sound a lot like an arsonist who's on trial for burning down her house pleading for mercy because she’s homeless.
I submit that our political system is robust enough to correct itself in detail in almost any circumstances, and that when it doesn’t do so, it builds time bombs to be detonated by future generations. Republicans have been spending a lot of time over the last couple of decades talking about “moral hazard”, the encouragement that bad behavior gets when we ameliorate or remove its consequences. There is no arena in which that argument makes more sense than in politics.
We are suffering from a crisis of confidence in our government, much as we are in our capital markets. Just as the credit crisis will continue until someone assigns a real value to the bad loans that make the valuation of trillions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities near to impossible at present, so our crisis of confidence in government will persist until the population is convinced that government can correct its course, including making official determinations of what went wrong and who did what.
Another of those correctives is balance between or among political parties, and part of restoring that balance is making it clear that Democrats won’t just roll over for the worst of political muggings because both the victim and the mugger have to live together in the same city. We Democrats have to convince voters that our party isn’t just a festering corpse that can’t or won’t defend itself from those who would pick its bones (or “drown it in a bathtub”).
To her credit, Noonan did make some reserved statements yesterday about the lack of wisdom in the McCain campaign's going completely negative for the last month. When she’s been making the same case consistently for, say, half the time she’s spent penning vituperative screeds against Democrats, I’ll begin to take such admonitions seriously. Get back to me in 15 years, Peggy.