The Ever-Gracious Peggy Noonan


For a lesson on how to sharply criticize a man with utter charity and graciousness, please see Peggy Noonan's latest column at

The greatest criticism of the president's governing style and White House is that they are uncalibrated. It's not enough they commit themselves, they must commit future presidencies. It is not enough they do their job, they must announce "the concentrated work of generations." It's not enough they hit Afghanistan, they must hit Iraq; it's not enough they improve, they must remake. It's not enough they must fight a war, they must reform America's most important social welfare program at the same time. It was not enough that Don Rumsfeld manage a war, he must at the same time modernize and revolutionize the military. It's not enough to allow spending to rise or raise it modestly, you must back the biggest growth in government since the Great Society. It's not enough to call for liberty, stand for liberty and assist the spread of liberty; you have to insist on it, now, or you are not America's friend. It's not enough to do A and B and C, you have to do Z too. It is all so uncalibrated.

Inside the White House they say, "We think big." Maybe. But maybe they're not thinking. They say, "We're bold." But maybe they're just unknowing, which is not the same thing. The bold weigh the price and pay it, get the lay of the land and move within it. The dreamy just spurt along on emotions.

It's as if Bush doesn't understand the concept of danger. He understands sin, redemption, practicalities (every man has to make his living, life is competition, etc.). But danger? Does he understand how dangerous life is? It's not cowardly to know this, and factor it in. It is in fact strange not to.

I sometimes think about people who ski. It has seemed to me that people who ski don't know how dangerous life is. Life hasn't taught them. So they look for danger on their vacations. They strap pieces of wood on their feet and propel themselves down high mountains full of snow and trees, drops and turns.

They consider this invigorating. The rest of us consider it perplexing. The rest of us are trying to take a holiday from danger. We are all shaped by experience. Lately I think the president could have used a time in his life when his father couldn't pay the rent. Such experiences tend to leave you unwilling to count on good luck coming, or staying.

Sometimes Mr. Bush acts as if he doesn't know you don't have to look for trouble, it will find you. When you are the American president, it knows your address by heart.

I know that on some level he knows this. The president has taken, those around him say, great comfort in biographies of previous presidents. All presidents do this. They all take comfort in the fact that former presidents now seen as great were, in their time, derided, misunderstood, underestimated. No one took the measure of their greatness until later. This is all very moving, but: Message to all biography-reading presidents, past present and future: Just because they call you a jackass doesn't mean you're Lincoln.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on April 20, 2006 8:04 PM.

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