Friday, January 14, 2011


In the immediate aftermath of the Tucson memorial service on Wednesday, some right-wingers were comparing the event to the memorial service for Paul Wellstone, which they universally denounced at the time (and have criticized ever since). Roy Edroso noticed this and predicted that Peggy Noonan would eventually weigh in on the Tucson service with her special brand of finger-wagging. (She actually had the nerve to criticize the Wellstone service in the voice of the late senator.)

Well, now she's issued her response, and it turns out that she genuinely liked Obama's speech: the end it was very good, maybe great. The speech had a proper height. It was large-spirited and dealt with big things. It was adroit and without rancor. The president didn't mourn, he inspirited.

But she still couldn't resist this swipe at Obama:

Throughout Mr Obama's career, he has critiqued America and its leadership from an outsider's stance, from that of an intellectual relatively new to public life. His sound was all faculty lounge. In this speech he celebrated America, and in celebrating it, he aligned himself more closely with the values the American people most justly celebrate in themselves -- instinctive courage, idealism, willingness to take the initiative....

Mr. Obama in some new way found the tone of the presidency in this speech, the sound of it. In a purely political sense he was talking to the center -- to the great beating heart of the middle of the country -- while going to the center himself. And so it may mark a turning point in his fortunes, because it prompts and allows people to see him in a new way, a fresher way.

So he said things about America in Tucson that he's never said before? Up till now he's just been a sneering egghead critic of America and the character of Americans?


I did a brief search of his speeches on, and I didn't get very far -- only back through the last six months or so -- but I did find this, addressed to Medal of Honor recipients in June:

I want you to know your heroism is unquestioned. Your stories are inspirational. Your actions above and beyond the call of duty have earned the admiration of a grateful nation. And we are incredibly honored that you could join us here tonight. (Applause.)

It’s that kind of heroism that has always defined what this nation is all about. After all, it was exactly 234 years ago that a group of patriots -- farmers and merchants, lawyers, physicians -- pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to an improbable experiment called America. They risked everything in the name of a few simple ideas -- freedom, equality and the right to pursue our full measure of happiness.

And even though the odds of success were not great, even though they were opposed by a powerful and far-reaching empire, these framers had the courage to take the first steps towards what would become the greatest democracy that the world has ever known.

And this, in a Veterans Day speech in Seoul:

At the Korean War Memorial in Washington, there’s a plaque right near the inscription that lists the number of Americans who were killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war. And it says: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

A country they never knew and a people they never met. I know of no better words to capture the selflessness and generosity of every man or woman who has ever worn the uniform of the United States of America. At a time when it has never been more tempting or accepted to pursue narrow self-interest and personal ambition, all of you here remind us that there are few things that are more fundamentally American than doing what we can to make a difference in the lives of others.

And this, in an address to troops at Bagram Air Base last month:

So make no mistake, through your service, you demonstrate the content of the American character. Sal is right -- every single one of you is a hero.

Some people ask whether America’s best days lie ahead or whether our greatness stretches back behind us in the stories of those who’ve gone before. And when I look out at all of you, I know the answer to that. You give me hope. You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear. Your selfless service shows who we are, who we always will be -- united as one people and united as one nation -- for you embody and stand up for the values that make us what we are as a people.

America is not defined by our borders. We are defined by a common creed. In this holiday season, it’s worth remembering that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator by certain inalienable rights, that among these are the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

And that’s what you’re fighting for here in Afghanistan, and that’s what you’re protecting back home. And that belief is more powerful than any adversary.

So we may face a tough enemy in Afghanistan, and we’re in a period of tough challenges back home, but we did not become the nation that we are because we do what’s easy. As Americans we’ve endured and we’ve grown stronger, and we remain the Land of the Free only because we are also Home of the Brave.

Professorial? Critiquing the American character? Er, no, I don't think so.

Noonan hears what she chooses to hear and ignores the rest -- or, perhaps, she hears only what her right-wing confreres, who search constantly for reasons to criticize the president the way sharks constantly search for food, urge her to hear.

In any case, Obama has spoken this way for some time. It's just that only now did Peggy Noonan notice.

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