Scott’s post about Peggy Noonan, and in particular her writing about Kamala Harris, reminded me of Noonan’s treatment of another candidate for Vice President, Sarah Palin. Noonan’s utterances about Palin in 2008, which I described here, fit well within the unfortunate pattern Scott describes.
Noonan’s first published take on Palin was basically the Republican Party line at the time — that the nominee represents “a real and present danger to the American left” which therefore needs to “kill” her. That’s what she wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
But it wasn’t what she believed. How do we know? Because at the Republican National Convention, a few days after writing her column, Noonan was captured, on a mic she thought was dead, saying that McCain had “blown it” by selecting Palin as his running mate. So much for the “danger” to the left.
In expressing this view, Noonan used a barnyard word for which she apologized profusely. This was a great way of diverting attention from the real problem with her statement — that it contradicted what she had just written. Noonan, of course, did not apologize for writing a column that didn’t express her actual view of the Palin nomination.
As the campaign rolled on, Noonan’s writings about Palin started to align with what she had said at the Convention when she thought her mic was dead. Indeed, she argued that Palin epitomizes what’s wrong with conservatives.
Noonan also started presenting herself as a victim of the pro-Palin sentiment that continued to prevail among many conservatives. She complained that conservatives who criticize Palin were being “shunned” by their fellow conservatives in an “attempt to silence” critics. She confused robust criticism of her arguments with an attempt to shut her up.
Reacting to the alleged attempt to silence her on the subject of Palin, Noonan began one of her columns by citing Edmund Burke’s admonition that writers owe their readers their judgment, and that they betray their readers if they present what may or may not be their opinion. But this was precisely the betrayal of Noonan’s initial column on Palin.
Noonan’s utterances about Sarah Palin in 2008 betray a lack of candor and, relatedly, an excessive concern over what people say about the opinions she expresses. The latter trait will tend to undermine a pundit’s value. The former will destroy it.