Peggy Noonan, the author of the best-selling book, When Character Was King, has authored seven major works on American politics and has for some years written a regular column for The Wall Street Journal. She is one of the most intellectually rigorous, and totally honest, writers in the field. She is also a serious, practicing Roman Catholic and wrote a fine book on John Paul II. Noonan actually took time off from writing, in 2004, to assist the re-election campaign of George W. Bush. But Peggy Noonan is not the usual pugnacious conservative. She has a first-rate mind and loves her country more than she loves political ideologies. In Bush's second term she began to question the president and suggested that he had gotten away from his real message and messed up badly on Iraq. Noonan has not switched parties but she has told the truth. This is what makes her so incredibly important at this precise moment.
Her new book, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need it Now (New York: Harper Collins, 2008), is a fantastic book. I would hope that many Christians, left and right, would read it. Noonan is, for me, a great Christian role model for conservatives, and liberals, if they will listen to her. She retains her conservative views without demonizing the other party or those she disagrees with. She does not think politics, in other words, should be "war." She believes 9/11 united us, for a short season, like few events in our lifetime but the Bush years have now driven us apart in a way that is both unhealthy and destructive.
Noonan believes that the "national mood" is for change precisely because of these developments. I think she is undoubtedly right. Americans are tired. They are tired of politics as usual and of leaders who do not lead well. They are weary of the old partisan divisions and of those who promoted them. This is why the right's call for John McCain to go "totally negative" will not work. (Newsweek reports in this week's edition that John McCain has pulled most of his negative ads and toned all this back. I wonder if partisan's on the left even notice.)
I am sick of all of this stuff. It harms the nation and it destroys Christians in our churches and in the wider society. Two examples stood out this past week as we are now only seven days from the election. Rush Limbaugh used his program on Friday to chide Barack Obama about his visit to his dying grandmother in Hawaii. Limbaugh asked, "Where are Michelle and the girls if this woman meant so much to Obama?" He then went on to say, "If you want to visit someone who is dying and help them today go buy some stock and help America." This heartless nonsense disgusts me.
At the same time a CNN reporter was interviewing Sarah Palin and quoted from a National Review story by Byron York, an ardent conservative blogger. This reporter tried to trap Palin by reading from York's commentary. He completely, totally misused the quote (making it say exactly the opposite of what the author had written) and then played "got-cha" in a big time way. Though CNN took down this portion of the interview late in the day the reporter has yet to apologize for this unscrupulous misrepresentation. My respect for the fairness of CNN has risen over the last five years but this kind of stuff didn't help their hard fought efforts to be scrupulously fair.
Here's the point. This will all be over in one week. It appears that Barack Obama will soon be President Obama. When I tell conservatives that I want him to succeed they go into orbit, especially conservative Christians. They seem to genuinely hate this man. They think he is a criminal who has no right to live in the White House. I ask: "What is different from this response and the way the far left has attacked President Bush so fiercely for nearly eight years now?"
Who is worse in this constant polemical tearing down of our social fabric? Both sides point to the other. Peggy Noonan suggests we need to rise above our fierce partisanship and reaffirm what it means to be Americans. To this end I will not only pray for Barack Obama if he wins but I will do everything in my power to support him as an American while I remain committed to my political philosophy. One thing I do know—this angry, mean-spirited period in our history needs to end, the sooner the better. Nothing serves the nation's real interest when we engage in non-stop name calling and character assassination.
Newsweek made a most interesting point about a possible Obama presidency. The magazine reminded readers that America is still a center-right nation. If Obama governs to the far left then he will not govern well and thus he will be a one-term president. I fully expect him to lead as a post-partisan who attempts to be more moderate in ways that might surprise his political friends and foes. The wild-card will be a very angry partisan Congress. If his fellow Democrats push him to their stance on certain divisive issues then he will quickly loose the good-will that he has gained in this election and take us back to where we have been for sixteen years. I pray this does not happen. I hope Obama succeeds. If he doesn't then the nation suffers even more and I care much more about the nation than I do about my political views.
This is why I have regularly written about being a "post-partisan" Christian. You who disagree with me on some issues need to cut me the same slack that I try to cut you. We are all Americans and on November 5 we will need to find fresh ways to heal the nation and go forward with a new leader. I am praying and will be working every day to this end.
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I appreciate your balance and fair-mindedness so much(especially on the very polarized issues of faith and politics). Christians lose credibility when they appear just as mean-spirited and partisan as the people they are protesting.
Here is where I struggle in the post-partisan issue. To me it’s like marriage, if both people in the marriage don’t do it, it won’t work. How does one really be “post-partisan” as Noonan suggests when things have gotten to the level of ugliness of where things are today?
Bush said he was going to be bi-partisan and went into the most partisan politics of his eight year presidency. It got so bad that Bush got to the (unhealthy) point that even where friends or staff rightly gave constructive criticism, they were asked to resign or were forced out.
The fact is it does no good for one group or one person to try to be bi-partisan or post-partisan when daggers are flying everywhere, especially in your back!
I certainly believe politics needs to become post-partisan and it has to start somewhere but it seems to me there is a kind of naivete that leads to disaster when the whole environment is trumped against it.
Idealism and realism both need to meet and so it seems there needs to be something “more” than a simple call to post-partisan politics as Noonan suggests. Just like a dysfunctional marriage, the mean powerful person usually gets there way while the nice powerless person gets trampled on in the process.
Somehow there has to be healthier *engagement* with a healthy does of *resistance* in this whole process is all I am saying.
Unfortunately what I have seen (and maybe my perspective is wrong?) in the past is a lot of lack luster leadership and cowardice done in the name of cooperation, compromise, and bi-partisanship.
May God give our leaders the courage and the wisdom to rise above the rancor of modern politics so they know where to stand and also where they need to resist.
These are rhetorical questions, but ones I struggle to answer: If there is truly a spiritual war going on (my theological assumption), how does it manifest itself in the politics of our country? I don’t want to be histrionic (or naive) about what is happening on a philosophical-spiritual-social level in the USA, yet I find myself wondering if our political conflict is not reflective of a deeper, serious, inevitable, and unresolvable cultural (and spiritual) war between those more and those less sold-out to secular modernism and postmodernism.
I ask myself if this is not the same kind of spiritual conflict that Western Europe experienced the last 150 years as it has increasingly abandoned pre-modernistic Christian values and beliefs in its embrace of Enlightenment modernism and then in its turn toward atheistic, nihilistic postmodernism. Finally, I wonder what radical postmodern politics would look like in our country? Would we easily recognize it? How would we discern it? What could happen if a super majority of radical postmodernists controlled the direction of our already spiritually damaged society, even if only for four years?
These types of questions leave me much more cynical than some Christians of an Obama win, because it appears to me that Obama too often reflects or promotes a radical liberal postmodernist worldview and socio-political agenda.
Perhaps I need more and better information. On the other hand, maybe we have good reason to be concerned–and involved. Unless Christians believe in the modernistic notion of inevitable social progress, the Bible seems to indicate a different cultural process and end. Are we too close to the forest to see the trees? What are our biblical responsibilities?
@Rick: As a European I sometimes wonder why Americans seem to think that Europe is so much more gone down the post-Christian pathway, when most European countries do NOT have the unlimited abortion license the US has, and religious expression in the public square is not nearly as difficult in most European countries as it seems to be in the present “church/state separation” climate in the US.
Politics has replaced Religion, just as in the old USSR.
Anybody wonder why so many Soviet-era Russians were alcoholics?
@Rick: To a lot of Christians, “our biblical responsibilities” means putting on the white robes, carrying the marked-up End Time Prophecy charts, and climbing onto rooftops and hilltops so they won’t have as far to travel. A burned-out pastor bud of mine in rural PA has to preach his “Don’t Go Stupid On Me!” sermon a LOT these days.
Were not postmodern attitudes and thinking birthed in Western Europe with the work of men such as Nietzche, Heidegger, Derrida, Pannwitz, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Foucault, for example? Of course, some influential Americans rather quickly followed suit and we, as a culture, have undeniably taken a “postmodern turn.”
I would not want to compare the ills and evils of Western Europe with those of the United States (spiritual struggles are no less significant here), but can anyone deny that Western Europe has had more time to culturally absorb post-Christian values and beliefs? After all, the majority of Americans still (at least) believe many traditional Christian doctrines, a claim I doubt most Europeans could make about their own cultures. No doubt that simply makes us less consistent, not better.
Thanks for a very interesting post, John. I always appreciate your thoughtful and fair-minded approach to things. I will definitely check out Ms. Noonan’s book.
I am one evangelical Christian who is voting for Obama this time around. Bush lost me at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. For the first time in my life I was ashamed to be an American. And like you I am just so sick of the divisive partisanship, and the Republicans seem to be playing harder at that game than anybody.
I agree with you assessment that Obama is likely to try to govern as a centrist if he is elected. He is nothing if not a smart man, and I think he knows he will be a one term president if he does otherwise.
Thank you for your moderate comments. I myself am very conservative theologically (Reformed/Calvinist), but very liberal politically. It can be very difficult to find others who share my views. So many people who criticize the “socialist” planks in the Democratic platform are Christians who seem to forget the socialist aspects of the Mosaic covenant which took care of all members of the Israelite community regardless of financial level. Likewise they seem to overlook the socialist ways of the first century church where all possessions were shared equally.
The biblical mandate to care for the poor and to share with those in need is NOT “socialistic” for at least two important reasons: (1) It did not involve government-forced giving, and (2) It was ideally motivated by love for God and concern for people, not a misguided sense of civil “rights” (“People deserve it.)
Furthermore, people forget that no group in America has done more for the poor and disenfranchised than conservative Christians (e.g. the Salvation Army, World Vision, etc.). This fact is often forgotten because, unlike Democrats, Republicans argue that generosity should primarily (not exclusively) be the act of individuals, corporations, and state and local government, not the result of federal government mandates and big-government control. That means the care for people generated by Republicans is often one step removed from visibility because, while encouraged and economically made possible by Republican decisions, it is less clearly attributed to their governing power (in contrast to Democrats).
Can Republicans improve? Yes. But in terms of the biblical ethic, it could be argued with little difficulty that they, more so than Democrats, represent the spirit of biblical compassion and generosity: voluntary and for love of God and people.