Peggy Noonan has her own web page, unsurprisingly enough, and several days ago I made use of her contact page to ask her a question. It says right on the contact page:
(O)wing to the amount of spam I have received in the past, messages are not forwarded to me until they have been reviewed. That generally results in a delay of a day or two before I see the message.I imagine she's received a flood of mail since she endorsed Obama, so I'm not all that surprised that my little missive has apparently not reached her notice.
I didn't save it, but I remember the gist of it. It was, after all, a variation of the one I sent to Rev. Donald Sensing. In Ms. Noonan's case, the piece she wrote was Oct. 27th, 2005's A Separate Peace, which inspired my essay, Tough History Coming. I quoted from her column:
Do people fear the wheels are coming off the trolley? Is this fear widespread? A few weeks ago I was reading Christopher Lawford's lovely, candid and affectionate remembrance of growing up in a particular time and place with a particular family, the Kennedys, circa roughly 1950-2000. It's called "Symptoms of Withdrawal." At the end he quotes his Uncle Teddy. Christopher, Ted Kennedy and a few family members had gathered one night and were having a drink in Mr. Lawford's mother's apartment in Manhattan. Teddy was expansive. If he hadn't gone into politics he would have been an opera singer, he told them, and visited small Italian villages and had pasta every day for lunch. "Singing at la Scala in front of three thousand people throwing flowers at you. Then going out for dinner and having more pasta." Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy "took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. 'I'm glad I'm not going to be around when you guys are my age.' I asked him why, and he said, 'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.' "I asked her, as I asked Rev. Sensing, if the intervening years had altered her opinion, and if so in what way.
Mr. Lawford continued, "The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of 'maybe we shouldn't go there.' Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on."
Lawford thought his uncle might be referring to their family--that it might "fall apart." But reading, one gets the strong impression Teddy Kennedy was not talking about his family but about . . . the whole ball of wax, the impossible nature of everything, the realities so daunting it seems the very system is off the tracks.
And--forgive me--I thought: If even Teddy knows . . .
But here's an equally pertinent excerpt, the concluding paragraphs:
If I am right that trolley thoughts are out there, and even prevalent, how are people dealing with it on a daily basis?I believe I have my answer. I think Ms. Noonan's opinion hasn't changed. She's just found a group of elites she fervently hopes might possibly save the ship, put the trolley back on the tracks, ignoring the fact that the elites never do the actual work. It's always left to Joe Six Pack. (Or Joe the Plumber.)
I think those who haven't noticed we're living in a troubling time continue to operate each day with classic and constitutional American optimism intact. I think some of those who have a sense we're in trouble are going through the motions, dealing with their own daily challenges.
And some--well, I will mention and end with America's elites. Our recent debate about elites has had to do with whether opposition to Harriet Miers is elitist, but I don't think that's our elites' problem.
This is. Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you get yours."
You're a lobbyist or a senator or a cabinet chief, you're an editor at a paper or a green-room schmoozer, you're a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief, and you're making your life a little fortress. That's what I think a lot of the elites are up to.
Not all of course. There are a lot of people--I know them and so do you--trying to do work that helps, that will turn it around, that can make it better, that can save lives. They're trying to keep the boat afloat. Or, I should say, get the trolley back on the tracks.
That's what I think is going on with our elites. There are two groups. One has made a separate peace, and one is trying to keep the boat afloat. I suspect those in the latter group privately, in a place so private they don't even express it to themselves, wonder if they'll go down with the ship. Or into bad territory with the trolley.
There's a scene from Frank Herbert's classic SF novel, Dune of a dinner party on the desert planet Arrakis where some rather delicate but vicious political maneuvering is going on. During the dinner conversation, Paul Atreides, the young hero of the novel (not at that point, though - that comes later) takes a political jab at one of the dinner guests himself:
"Once, on Caladan, I saw the body of a drowned fisherman recovered. He --"And, I would add, except when you see it in political punditry.
"Drowned?" It was the stillsuit manufacturer's daughter.
Paul hesitated, then: "Yes. Immersed in water until dead. Drowned."
"What an interesting way to die," she murmered.
Paul's smile became brittle. He returned his attention to the banker. "The interesting thing about this man was the wounds on his shoulders -- made by another fisherman's claw-boots. The fisherman was one of several in a boat -- a craft for traveling on water -- that foundered . . . sank beneath the water. Another fisherman helping recover the body said he'd seen marks like this man's wounds several times. They meant another fisherman tried to stand on this poor fellow's shoulders in the attempt to reach the surface -- to reach air."
"Why is this interesting?" the banker asked.
"Because of an observation made by my father at the time. He said the drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable -- except when you see it happen in the drawing room." Paul hesitated just long enough for the banker to see the point coming, then: "And, I should add, except when you see it at the dinner table."