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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Peggy Noonan and the rotting pundit class

One of the more corrupt pundit phenomena is the way in which the most loyal and worshipful Bush followers, who spent the last five years praising the President and doing everything possible to enable his most radical policies, are now suddenly pretending to be so deeply dissatisfied with his rule. Now that the Bush movement is collapsing, they all want to pretend that they knew all along that things weren't going well and that the President was deeply flawed. Suddenly, they're not a part of any of it and bear no responsibility for it because, all along, they felt the President wasn't doing the right thing and, besides, he was never really loyal to their political beliefs.

Here is Peggy Noonan in The Wall St. Journal today, trying to demonstrate how objective and intellectually honest she is by claiming that even well-connected Republicans think that Republicans deserve to lose this election. For this, Noonan blames the President: "They want to fire Congress because they can't fire President Bush." When trying to explain why Republicans are dissatisfied with the President, this is what she says:

Republican political veterans go easy on ideology, but they're tough on incompetence. They see Mr. Bush through the eyes of experience and maturity. They hate a lack of care. They see Mr. Bush as careless, and on more than Iraq--careless with old alliances, disrespectful of the opinion of mankind. "He never listens," an elected official who is a Bush supporter said with a shrug some months ago.

Along the way the president's men and women confused the necessary and legitimate disciplining of a coalition with weird and excessive attempts to silence Republican critics. They have lived in a closed system. They now want to open it but don't know how. Listening is a habit; theirs has long been to suppress.

But in 2004, when arguing for President Bush's re-election, this is what Peggy Noonan said in The Wall St. Journal about George Bush (a passage I remember so vividly because it may very well be the most horrifying and cringe-inducing piece of punditry ever):

I was asked this week why the president seems so attractive to the heartland, to what used to be called Middle America. A big question. I found my mind going to this word: normal.

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, "Where's Sally?"

He's responsible. He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, "I warned Joe about that furnace." And, "Does Joe have children?" And "I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it's formidable and yet fleeting." When the fire comes they talk.

Bush ain't that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain't that guy. Americans love the guy who ain't that guy.

Someone said to me: But how can you call him normal when he came from such privilege? Indeed he did. But there's nothing lemonade-on-the-porch-overlooking-the-links-at-the-country-club about Mr. Bush. . . .

George W. Bush didn't grow up at Greenwich Country Day with a car and a driver dropping him off, as his father had. Until he went off to boarding school, he thought he was like everyone else. That's a gift, to think you're just like everyone else in America. It can be the making of you.

So, in just over two years in Noonan's world, George Bush went from being the responsible, concerned, trustworthy, humble neighbor-Everyman who realized that he was just another regular guy like the rest of us, to an arrogant, hubristic know-it-all tyrant who listens to nobody, stomps out dissent, and is completely irresponsible with his duties. And she now depicts Bush in this way while pretending that she never stumbled all over herself with oozing praise that was the very antithesis of what she is now describing.

The most corrupt and worthless pundits are those who never do anything other than spout the most conventional and recent partisan wisdom -- even if it directly contradicts what they had repeatedly said in the past -- and who always pretend that they possess the superior wisdom even when they have been so plainly wrong about everything. It's that dynamic that explains how hordes of Bush followers in the public sphere (such as Noonan) who spent years loyally defending his every step -- and demonizing those who opposed him ("criticizing the Commander-in-Chief during a time of war") -- are now posturing as hard-nosed critics who, all along, realized that Bush wasn't a "real conservative" and was too flawed for the job.

One thing that you can say about Bush is that, by and large, he doesn't change. Any basis for criticizing him has been glaringly apparent for quite some time. All that has changed is the fact that he is now wildly unpopular and that his failures are too glaring for most to deny. Because of that dramatic change -- and for no other reason -- these Bush-worshipping pundits are desperate to shed their Bush-following skin and pretend that they have been open-eyed realists and critics all along.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging one's errors and changing one's mind. When it is genuine, that is a commendable attribute which ought to be encouraged. But that isn't what is happening with the Peggy Noonans of the world (including the serious, moderate Beltway pundits who spent the last five years lecturing all of us on the importance of Supporting the President). They aren't admitting anything. To the contrary, they are pretending to be something that they are not -- namely, wise, objective, insightful analysts who all along have long seen the flaws in the President that have caused his presidency to collapse.

They are not analysts who have changed their minds or bravely recognized their errors. They are just self-serving, deceitful rats jumping a sinking ship that they long helped to keep afloat. Worse, they are doing so while pretending that they were never really on board (Noonan: "it's clear now to everyone in the Republican Party that Mr. Bush has changed the modern governing definition of 'conservative.' He did this without asking. He did it even without explaining"). If Bush's popularity skyrocketed tomorrow, their gushing praise would instantaneously return.

The only objective they have is to always appear to be omniscient, wise and right, and they will say anything to preserve that appearance. It's important not to allow these always-wrong individuals -- burdened with such horrendous political judgment and willing to follow such a radical political movement with blind loyalty -- to use these inauthentic, last-minute conversions in order to obscure how wrong they have been.

The disasters facing our country didn't happen because George Bush, the individual, was flawed. They have happened because the entire movement which propped him up and glorified him for so long is craven, corrupt and radical. It is critical that they not be permitted to jettison Bush (now that he has outlived his purpose) while pretending that he failed to adhere to what they wanted.

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