Et Tu, Noonan?
UPDATED BELOW THE FOLD
After sounding cautiously, perhaps nervously optimistic in today's column about John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate ("A Clear and Present Danger to the American Left," September 3), Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan performed an abrupt about-face in front of a live NBC microphone later in the day, apparently unaware she was being recorded. "It's over," Noonan said, apparently referring to the chances of the McCain Palin ticket sweeping to victory in November. (Link to NBC video clip)
Here is a transcript prepared by Frank James of the Chicago Tribune's blog, The Swamp:
MURPHY: You know, I come out of a blue, swing-state governor world. Engler Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, I mean, and these guys, this is all like how you win a Texas race, you run it up. It's not going to work.
NOONAN: It's over.
MURPHY: Still McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech to do himself some good.
TODD: Don't you think the Palin pick was insulting to to Kay Bailey Hutchison?
NOONAN: I saw Kay this morning.
MURPHY: She's never been comfortable about that.. I mean
(Someone says something unintelligible.
TODD: Is she really the most qualified woman?
NOONAN: The most qualified no. I think they went for this excuse me political bull---- about narratives...
TODD: Yeah, they went to narratives.
NOONAN: Everytime Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.
MURPHY: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism
TODD: and this is cynical. And as you called it gimmicky.
TODD: Thanks guys.
MURPHY: See you later.
The TV chat came after Noonan's column appeared in the WSJ today. In the column, Noonan wrote:
The choice of Sarah Palin IS a Hail Mary pass, the pass the guy who thinks he has a good arm makes to the receiver he hopes is gifted.
Most Hail Mary passes don't work.
But when they do they're a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Gut: The Sarah Palin choice is really going to work, or really not going to work. It's not going to be a little successful or a little not; it's not going to be a wash. She is either going to be magic or one of history's accidents. She is either going to be brilliant and groundbreaking, or will soon be the target of unattributed quotes by bitter staffers shifting blame in all the Making of the President 2008 books. Of which there should be plenty, as we've never had a year like this, with the fabulous freak of a campaign.
More immediately and seriously on Palin:
Because she jumbles up so many cultural categories, because she is a feminist not in the Yale Gender Studies sense but the How Do I Reload This Thang way, because she is a woman who in style, history, moxie and femininity is exactly like a normal American feminist and not an Abstract Theory feminist; because she wears makeup and heels and eats mooseburgers and is Alaska Tough, as Time magazine put it; because she is conservative, and pro-2nd Amendment and pro-life; and because conservatives can smell this sort of thing -- who is really one of them and who is not -- and will fight to the death for one of their beleaguered own; because of all of this she is a real and present danger to the American left, and to the Obama candidacy.
She could become a transformative political presence.
Perhaps Noonan decided after the column was published that the Palin experiment is "really not going to work." Or maybe that's what she's believed all along.
Whatever her reasons for writing one thing and saying another, Noonan, conservative or not, needs to explain herself.
(Note: This blog post contains the personal opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of his employer.)
Post Script 8:30 p.m.: Peggy Noonan offers a mea culpa after the fact. She says her on-air words were misconstrued. She now says that WSJ editors have allowed her to amend her post and change the headline to "Open Mic Night at MSNBC." The new top portion of the post reads:
Well, I just got mugged by the nature of modern media, and I wish it weren't my fault, but it is. Readers deserve an explanation, so I'm putting a new top on today's column and, with the forbearance of the Journal, here it is.
Wednesday afternoon, in a live MSNBC television panel hosted by NBC's political analyst Chuck Todd, and along with Republican strategist Mike Murphy, we discussed Sarah Palin's speech this evening to the Republican National Convention. I said she has to tell us in her speech who she is, what she believes, and why she's here. We spoke of Republican charges that the media has been unfair to Mrs. Palin, and I defended the view that while the media should investigate every quote and vote she's made, and look deeply into her career, it has been unjust in its treatment of her family circumstances, and deserved criticism for this.
When the segment was over and MSNBC was in commercial, Todd, Murphy and I continued our conversation, talking about the Palin choice overall. We were speaking informally, with some passion -- and into live mics. An audio tape of that conversation was sent, how or by whom I don't know, onto the internet. And within three hours I was receiving it from friends far and wide, asking me why I thought the McCain campaign is "over", as it says in the transcript of the conversation. Here I must plead some confusion. In our off-air conversation, I got on the subject of the leaders of the Republican party assuming, now, that whatever the base of the Republican party thinks is what America thinks. I made the case that this is no longer true, that party leaders seem to me stuck in the assumptions of 1988 and 1994, the assumptions that reigned when they were young and coming up. "The first lesson they learned is the one they remember," I said to Todd -- and I'm pretty certain that is a direct quote. But, I argued, that's over, those assumptions are yesterday, the party can no longer assume that its base is utterly in line with the thinking of the American people. And when I said, "It's over!" -- and I said it more than once -- that is what I was referring to. I am pretty certain that is exactly what Todd and Murphy understood I was referring to. In the truncated version of the conversation, on the Web, it appears I am saying the McCain campaign is over. I did not say it, and do not think it. In fact, at an on-the-record press symposium on the campaign on Monday, when all of those on the panel were pressed to predict who would win, I said that I didn't know, but that we just might find "This IS a country for old men." That is, McCain may well win. I do not think the campaign is over, I do not think this is settled, and did not suggest, back to the Todd-Murphy conversation, that "It's over."
However, I did say two things that I haven't said in public, either in speaking or in my writing. One is a vulgar epithet that I wish I could blame on the mood of the moment but cannot. No one else, to my memory, swore. I just blurted. The other, more seriously, is a real criticism that I had not previously made, but only because I hadn't thought of it. And it is connected to a thought I had this morning, Wednesday morning, and wrote to a friend. Here it is. Early this morning I saw Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and as we chatted about the McCain campaign (she thoughtfully and supportively) I looked into her eyes and thought, Why not her? Had she been vetted for the vice presidency, and how did it come about that it was the less experienced Mrs. Palin who was chosen? I didn't ask these questions or mention them, I just thought them. Later in the morning, still pondering this, I thought of something that had happened exactly 20 years before. It was just after the 1988 Republican convention ended. I was on the plane, as a speechwriter, that took Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, and the new vice presidential nominee, Dan Quayle, from New Orleans, the site of the convention, to Indiana. Sitting next to Mr. Quayle was the other senator from that state, Richard Lugar. As we chatted, I thought, "Why him and not him?" Why Mr. Quayle as the choice, and not the more experienced Mr. Lugar? I came to think, in following years, that some of the reason came down to what is now called The Narrative. The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself, and communicate to others. I don't like the idea of The Narrative. I think it is ... a barnyard epithet. And, oddly enough, it is something that Republicans are not very good at, because it's not where they live, it's not what they're about, it's too fancy. To the extent the McCain campaign was thinking in these terms, I don't like that either. I do like Mrs. Palin, because I like the things she espouses. And because, frankly, I met her once and liked her. I suspect, as I say further in here, that her candidacy will be either dramatically successful or a dramatically not; it won't be something in between.
But, bottom line, I am certainly sorry I blurted my barnyard ephithet, I am certainly sorry that someone abused my meaning in the use of the words, "It's over", and I'm sorry I didn't have the Kay Baily Hutchison thought before this morning, because I could have written of it. There. Now: onto today's column.