Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Noonan

Peggy Noonan wrote last week on what she hopes to hear from tonight's State of the Union address by the President:
The big thing I'd like to hear the president say this year? There are areas toward which he can point with pride, most especially the still not fully recognized triumph of the U.S. economy, a jobs-making, wealth-making dynamo. That it is so strong, so high, five years after 9/11 is amazing, and moving, too: A lot of individual toil went into that. How did it happen, what cultural implications does it hold, what are we doing wrong, what will strengthen growth, what will undermine it? Serious and textured thoughts are, here, overdue.

But there is no denying that Iraq is, still, subject No. 1. In connection with that, I wish the president would take time to acknowledge and think aloud about the bitterness that has come to surround the entire postinvasion American polity. The feeling of mutual sympathy that swept America's political class in the days after 9/11 has dissipated, if not disappeared. And this is true not only in government but in newspapers, on the Internet, in the culture.

It's been an era of soft thinking and hard words. Those who opposed the war were weak and craven; those who supported it were dupes and bullies; those who came to oppose the war were cowards bowing to polls; those who continue to support it love all war all the time. Some of this was inevitable--the stakes could barely be higher; passions flare. But it's not getting us anywhere. And it's limiting debate. It's making people fearful.

It is time for a kind of verbal amnesty in which thoughts are considered before motives are judged. An admission that the White House is as responsible for this situation as everyone else would help clear the air--and just might prompt some soul-searching in members of the audience. An honest plea here could break through the cement that has hardened over the debate. Who could answer harshly when a president who loves his country admitted the problem and pleaded for change? That's what might really hit reset.