Peggy Noonan is perhaps my favourite American political columnist. She's on good form today, not least because she takes some time to make a point this blog has long favoured:
During the postspeech coverage, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell spoke to a journalist about how presidents get advice and information. Mitchell noted that people often mean to speak hard truths but then "they walk into the Oval Office and get tongue tied." She was referring to the awe with which we view the presidency, the White House, and the famous office with no corners in which presidents so often feel cornered.
Here is an idea for everyone in Washington: Get over it. It's distorting the system. This week we saw the past four presidents standing in the Oval Office for a photo-op on the afternoon of their private lunch. As you looked at the pictures afterward you had to think: How flawed were they? How many were a success?
Did you notice how they all leaned away from Jimmy Carter, the official Cootieman of former presidents? It was like high-school students to the new girl: "You can't sit here, we're the Most Popular table."
The Founders, who were awed by the presidency and who made it a point, the early ones, to speak in their inaugural addresses of how unworthy they felt, would be astonished and confounded by the over-awe with which we view presidents now. We treat them as if they are the Grand Imperial Czar of the Peacock Throne, and we their 'umble servants. It's no good, and vaguely un-American. Right now patriotism requires more than the usual candor. It requires speaking truthfully and constructively to a president who is a man, and just a man. We hire them, we fire them, they come back for photo-ops. They're not magic.
True enough. But as Noonan must know - having been a speechwriter* for Ronald Reagan and being, more generally, a smart cookie - any hope that the pundits might treat the President as a mere flesh-and-bones mortal might as well be abandoned right now. There's a new Priest-King in town and he shall be called Hope. Not that Republicans can complain, given their sanctification of the late, blessed Ronnie. And of course it's been this way for a while: remember how George W came to power determined to "restore honour and dignity to the office" of the Presidency, speaking of it as though it were a throne that had been insulted - and sullied - by its previous occupant...
People talk about how cynical Washington is. I've never been quite convinced by that. In some respects and at least some of the time it's the least cynical, mushiest, most sentimental city in America, (I mean political-media Washington, not the city of born-and-bred Washingtonians) full of folk who earnestly want to believe. It's not that tough to impress official and semi-offical Washington; thankfully the general public are made of sterner, tougher stuff.
*She wrote the famous, and brilliant, Boys of Point du Hoc speech.
UPDATE: Of course to understand the Monarchical Presidency you should really purchase Gene Healy's excellent book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power .Even better, if you do so via that link I receive a tiny commission, thanks to the wonders of Amazon Associates. (Ditto for anything purchased via the Amazon button on the right.)