Peggy Noonan, the Inauguration Speech, and The Challenges of Party Coalitions.

Well, from what little I heard on talk radio today, some of the big post-inauguration news in the conservative world is Peggy Noonan’s column today in the Wall Street Journal (above).
One of Rush’s callers brought it up this afternoon. Rush said that a) he has high respect for Peggy Noonan, personally and professinoaly, so he refused to either criticize her or try to interpret her, but b) he used it as a sounding board for what he sees as some of the criticism coming at Bush from the Right (focusing on McCain and Hegel).
Just hearing that discussion, I had my own ideas as to where she was coming from. Later, I was listening to Laura Ingraham, who said, “Later, Peggy Noonan sounds off on the inauguration,” but I never actually heard Ingraham’s take on it.
When I finally got to reading Noonan’s column myself, I found I was right on target with my guess. First, the column is misrepresented by the headline as “too much God.”
She doesn’t really criticize the inauguration for being too religious. She criticizes it for
a. Being too Protestant and
b. Having hokey contemporary “praise and worship” music instead of more dignified fare.

More importantly, though, she criticizes Bush’s wide-sweeping mission. I think Rush’s delicate words belied that he really knew where she was coming from.
One of the principle areas where I disagree with both Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Bush is their optimism. Anyone familiar with Burke or Kirk knows that conservatives are *not* supposed to be optimistic.
Conservatives are supposed to be pessimistic. We know human beings are bad. We mistrust human nature. Pessimism, by the way, is not the same as cynicism.
Liberalism is optimistic about human nature, and false optimism always creates cynicism, which is what we see in the modern Left.
A conservative does not put his trust in government to solve his problems, because government is a flawed, human institution. A conservative knows that only the Church is trustworthy to do actual good in the world. A conservative, versus a feudalist (for lack of a better term), also knows historically the dangers of mixing the Church and the State too much.

For four years, religious conservatives have faced a quandary in George W. Bush.
On the one hand, we have a president who speaks our language. . . . But does he do it too well? Is it just an act?
He has done some pretty significant things, but has he done enough? Has he *really* acted like someone who professes what he professes?
I don’t know. . . . .I know he’s better than the alternatives. And I know he’s done some good, and we must never expect perfection from our politicians.
And that is the point of Noonan’s piece. The world is imperfect, and politicians are imperfect. And as soon as they begin talking *like* they are perfect; as soon as they start coming up with grandiose plans to “do good,” whether in domestic or foreign policy, they are rising on the slippery slope to becoming tyrants themselves.

Oftentimes, those of us with deep set convictions and an understanding of different political philosophies are forced, by the nature of practical politics, to be what I call “political schizophrenics.” We must compromise, and we must sometimes “waffle,” as it were, depending upon the context of the debate.
In fact, one thing I will grant John Kerry is that he is not quite as inconsistent as many accuse him of being.
Thus, conservatives often cite the writings of George Washington, such as his farewell address, when talking about issues like taxation or immigration or religion in public life. But they neglect Washington’s warnings against foreign entanglements.

Now, we know there are many philosophical and political divisions among Catholics, particularly in America. Even Catholics who vote Republican tend to fall under certain divisions.
One one end, there are your so-called “Reagan Democrats,” the people who say “I’d be a Democrat if it wern’t for abortion.”
On the other end are Catholic libertarians, like myself, who mistrust all federal power and say, “If it weren’t for abortion, I’d vote Libertarian.”
Then there are some mainstream Republican Catholics in between who, like Peggy Noonan, are more strictly conservative philosophically, and tend to be more lock-step with the Republican positions.

Then there’s Iraq. I konw people who feel that Iraq was such an important “life issue” that it overrode abortion & they voted for Kerry (even though Cardinal Ratiznger and the USCCB made it clear that abortion *does* outweigh war as a political issue).
And many Catholics who inititally supported Bush, and initially supported the war in Iraq, have at various points repented of that decision, as more information has come out.

Personally, I still support the war and think it was the right war, but given the wrong justification. I believe we should have ousted Saddam Hussein in 1991. Giving him the second chance under sanctions was a great application of Just War Theory, but Hussein violated the sanctions on numerous occasions, so a continuation of the just war started in 1991 was inevitable and obligatory. It just took to long for the US to do it.
To me, the justification of the present conflict in Iraq is derived from whether the 1991 conflict was justified. And I know that many Catholics on “the Right” believe that *both* wars are unjust. To that end, I applaud their consistency and respectfully disagree.

What’s important here is that, as the Democratic Party is imploding on its cynicism and socialism, and as the Republican “coalition” beocmes the deminant party in American politics, it’s time to take stock of the different factions taht make up that party.
And the many factions taht call themselves Republican, or even conservative, have often been ignored.
Rush calls it political opportunism, but I think it’s more like any political revolution–violent or non-violent.
When Christians were being persecuted by Rome, they didn’t give as much attention to theological nuance. But as soon as Christianity was legalized, the heresies came out of the woodwork and they Church needed to clearly identify itself.
The broad coalition of Republican interest groups, like the broad coalition of Democrat interest groups, share certain basic and interconnecting goals, but have many nuances that, within their own context, become quite extreme.
We overlook those nuances to gain power. But once we’re in power, those nuances become crucial.

The principle of “schizophrenia” in practical politics makes us squelch some seemingly lesser concerns for the ones that seem more important. So, if I’m a Catholic who is politically Republican and philosophically conservative, I’m going to be wary of finding that I share the same misgivings of our current Republican president as those on the Left (if for different reasons).
It is a bold move, especially by a prominent figure like Peggy Noonan, to make that admission.

The difference is this. The Left doesn’t want the Church influencing the state, where the religious person is wary of the state influencing the Church.
The Left says that Bush’s religious rhetoric is just that, empty rhetoric that he doesn’t really believe. Most people who know the president, including Noonan, agree that his beliefs are authentic.

The question is: what *are* his beliefs? One of the great temptations suggested in _The Screwtape Letters_ is for a cause initially joined for the sake of religion to overturn religion itself.
Look at Action Francaise. The Catholics and the monarchists in 19th Century France were allied, for a variety of reasons. But there were a lot of differences between them, as well.
Catholics saw the monarchy as more conducive to a Catholic society than democracy (esp. the radical secular democracy being pushed in France). So they supported the Action Francaise movement. But when the leaders of that particular movement, who were atheists, talked of the CHurch as a tool to advance monarchism, the Pope condemned the movement (the situation was later rectified).

Many Catholics in Italy and Germany initially supported Mussolini and Hitler because of their talk of traditional values. And when the veneer came off, they changed their tunes, but it was too late.
I honestly do not believe that is the case with George W. Bush. I don’t agree with the Left that he’s a Hitler or a Mussolini.
But I *do* fear that his rhetoric and his policies might pave the way for a Hitler or Mussolini.
Think about the “War on Terror.” In 2001, Jerry Falwell published Clinton-era FBI files, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, that showed how the Clinton Adminsistration considered the pro-life movement one of the most dangerous terrorist threats in the country, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to be the most organized terrorist network in the country!
Imagine what would happen if a Democrat came to power with the mandates of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security.
Now Bush is saying that we need to have a global war to liberate every country in the world from every tyrant?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s