Peggy Noonan’s Fairly Reasonable Assessment of the Candidates

Peggy Noonan reviews the candidates from both parties based upon whether she finds the candidates “reasonable” as opposed to whether they share her ideology. As a result of looking beyond ideology, I must say that Noonan does a far more reasonable job of assessing the candidates than I would expect from a conservative columnist at The Wall Street Journal. She is also far more reasonable than some of the liberal bloggers who are distorting what she wrote.

Looking at the Democratic race, Noonan starts with Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, writing “They have been United States senators for a combined 62 years. They’ve read a raw threat file or two. They have experience, sophistication, the long view. They know how it works. No one will have to explain it to them.” She also briefly mentions Bill Richardson as being a reasonable choice. She finds Barack Obama to be reasonable, even if having some reservations which aren’t totally unreasonable:

He has earned the attention of the country with a classy campaign, with a disciplined and dignified staff, and with passionate supporters such as JFK hand Ted Sorensen, who has told me he sees in Obama’s mind and temperament the kind of gifts Kennedy displayed during the Cuban missile crisis. Mr. Obama is thoughtful, and it would be a pleasure to have a president who is highly literate and a writer of books.

Is he experienced enough? No. He’s not old enough either. Men in their 40s love drama too much. Young politicians on fire over this issue or that tend to see politics as a stage on which they can act out their greatness. And we don’t need more theatrics, more comedies or tragedies. But Mr. Obama doesn’t seem on fire. He seems like a calm liberal with a certain moderating ambivalence. The great plus of his candidacy: More than anyone else he turns the page. If he rises he is something new in history, good or bad, and a new era begins.

Noonan finds problems with Hillary Clinton which do make sense, although I can’t agree with her ranking of Clinton compared to Nixon:

Hillary Clinton? No, not reasonable. I concede her sturdy mind, deep sophistication, and seriousness of intent. I see her as a triangulator like her husband, not a radical but a maneuverer in the direction of a vague, half-forgotten but always remembered, leftism. It is also true that she has a command-and-control mentality, an urgent, insistent and grating sense of destiny, and she appears to believe that any act that benefits Clintons is a virtuous act, because Clintons are good and deserve to be benefited.

But this is not, actually, my central problem with her candidacy. My central problem is that the next American president will very likely face another big bad thing, a terrible day, or days, and in that time it will be crucial–crucial–that our nation be led by a man or woman who can be, at least for the moment and at least in general, trusted. Mrs. Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctively distrusted, political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon. Would she be able to speak the nation through the trauma? I do not think so. And if I am right, that simple fact would do as much damage to America as the terrible thing itself.

I also agree with her assessment of John Edwards, writing, “All the Democrats would raise taxes as president, but Mr. Edwards’s populism is the worst of both worlds, both intemperate and insincere.” It would have been better if she went into further detail about how Edwards is not qualified to be president, and she is being kind in limiting her description of an opportunistic phony such as Edwards as merely being “insincere.” Joining Noonan in looking at character over ideology, with the exception of George Bush we have rarely seen a candidate so unfit to be president have such a real shot at the job. Bob Shrum elaborated more than Noonan in calling Edwards a “lightweight,” a “hyper-ambitious phony” and “a Clinton who hadn’t read the books.”

Unfortuantely Noonan couldn’t resist one trivial shot in writing, “Also we can’t have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can’t.” This line, which does weaken the column, has been taken out of context by some bloggers suggesting that this one throw away line is characteristic of her entire column. James Joyner also notes that Glenn Greenwald is inaccurate in his criticism. The YouTube video is hardly the major reason why Edwards should not be president, and is not Noonan’s major objection. While out of place in a column of this nature, the video shouldn’t be totally ignored either. The video actually does capture the shallowness of John Edwards, which is the real issue as opposed to Edwards not being a “real man.” Sure it is possible that any candidate might look foolish if videotaped while combing their hair, but it is no coincidence that such a video has come to represent John Edwards specifically.

On the Republican side, Noonan considers John McCain, Mitt Romney, Duncan Hunter, and Fred Thompson to be reasonable. My view of Romney as reasonable has declined the more I see him campaign. While both Edwards and Romney have changed their views out of political expediency, and both appear “insincere” to me, Noonan is far more forgiving of Romney. She also considers Rudy Giuliani to be reasonable. While I disagree I’ll give her a pass on that one as she also writes, “He is reasonable but not desirable. If he wins somewhere, I’ll explain.” As long as she realizes that Giuliani is not desirable it is possible we agree on him.

Noonan doesn’t elaborate as to why she doesn’t consider Huckabee to be unreasonable in this column, but did express her views of him in a column I discussed a couple of weeks ago. Huckabee is also notable for being one of only two candidates left in the race who are foolish enough to admit they don’t believe in evolution. The other, Ron Paul, is not mentioned but few would expect Paul to be considered in any review of candidates based upon being reasonable, with some of the reasons noted in a post yesterday following his discussion of a possible third party candidacy. Not surprisingly, she also left out Alan Keyes, and on the Democratic side she left out Kucinich and Gravel.

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