Saturday, December 12, 2015

Photo of the Day: Peggy Noonan at Books and Greetings, Northvale, NJ

Thursday night, I drove to see conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, who has been on a tour promoting her collection of speeches and articles over the last 30 years, The Time of Our Lives

At Books and Greetings, a bookstore in Northern New Jersey, however, her appearance had something like the feeling of a welcome-home party: through much of her youth, she had grown up in Rutherford; she graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in the early 1970s; and at least several well-wishers from those days (including a brother) were in the audience.

I arrived about 15 minutes late for the start of her talk before the book-signing. All the seats were taken up front, and, among people waiting for her to sign their books, I was #56. I stood halfway in the back of the store, craning my neck and listening hard as she spoke.

I do not agree with all of Noonan’s positions; indeed, unlike many in the audience, I don’t think I agree with even half of them. But I found her account of working in the Reagan Administration, What I Saw at the Revolution, a political memoir of uncommon wit and verve, and her “Declarations” column is the first thing I turn to in each Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Unlike much of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, her criticism of Barack Obama is informed by sincere, thoughtful disagreement over his philosophy of government rather than by conspiratorial nonsense about what he is not, and her best work reflects her firsthand knowledge of the ideals and compromises made by those in government.

In the image accompanying this post, she is signing my copy of The Time of Our Lives and another book, On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech With Style, Substance, and Clarity

(As someone whose work over the years has occasionally required writing speeches, I was intrigued by the latter—and, indeed, it looks as if my curiosity has paid off; after I got home, I marveled at her astute, line-by-line reading of Earl Charles Spencer’s eulogy for his sister, Princess Diana, and why Ms. Noonan felt, eight years into the decade, that it might be “so far the only great speech of the 1990s.”)

Before signing books for the eager throng assembled, Ms. Noonan answered a variety of questions from the audience, including:

*What was it like to work for Ronald Reagan? (She felt “lucky” to have her speeches delivered by a man who had used his voice professionally, in acting and in politics, for 40 years, and that she had never felt that “a good man can also be a great man” until she worked for him.)

*Who were her literary influences? (Like mine, American novelists of the Twenties and Forties—notably Hemingway—and, a rediscovery of hers in recent years, the poet Robert Frost.)

*What did she think of Donald Trump? (She, like so many others, did not think he would enter the race, but did not dismiss his chances after his announcement because he had “hit a nerve on illegal immigration” with GOP primary voters. Still, she noted, his candidacy was not without dangers: “People ask me, ‘Can he win the nomination?’ Yes, he can. Or they’ll ask, ‘Can he split the party?’ Yes, he can.”)

Many progressive readers (including a number of those who read this blog) may wonder why I admire a writer with whom I often disagree with so profoundly. It’s simple, really: Ms. Noonan writes like an angel, and, in my view, that forgives a lot.

Not that, when you get down to it, she has anything to be forgiven for. In a time of angry polarization, Ms. Noonan writes with civility, a spirit that should be returned in kind. As Thomas Jefferson noted in his first Inaugural Address: “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”

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