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A Sigh of Relief

28 October 2005

Peggy Noonan has done it again.  Put words – her strongest suit – to your servant’s thoughts.  Sort of.  Consider this closing excerpt from her October 27 column:
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 find over the last year or so that I have spent less and less time and energy pondering political things and more and more time and energy pondering spiritual things.  (They are exclusive sets, or so they tell me.)  Yeah, the Miers nomination – and she’s a great American patriot, don’t get me wrong – was a boneheaded move that self-inflicted unnecessary headaches on my beloved President Bush.  No, the president does not deserve all of the unalloyed vitriol that is spewed his way; these three hurricanes, and quite probably 9/11, would have happened no matter who was at the tiller.  All that, and so much more.
Still, despite the plain fact that such malignant attitudes could be rationally and successfully contested, I find myself disengaging from the Op-Ed page and all of the related venues for one simple reason.
It’s not quite the bunker mentality that Noonan seems to describe.  It’s more of a resignation to the Second Law, a concession to the monotonic descent to disorder.  And a subconscious decision to operate in a sphere in which my influence actually counts for something instead of being merely an oboe amongst the brass.
And I find myself doubting that many of our so-called “public servantsâ€� are really all that wise, all that noble.  The public they “serveâ€� surely cannot conceal its contempt for them, that much is clear.  And so what’s the point?  Even if they were noble, we don’t view them that way.  Substantive arguments are viewed as war, or at least intemperate rudeness.  George Will is a “brute?â€�  Really?  And if that gentle sage can be labeled a “bruteâ€� – that’s the root of the word “brutal,â€� may I remind you – then what chance do I have to be heard at the level of merits?
It’s not fear of being persuaded to abandon my current beliefs; I’m secure enough in my identity to handle that.  And it’s not shame; I’m convinced that being a conservative is worth the price one pays for making it known.  It’s just a sigh of resignation, of futility.
And of relief.  What greater joy is there than to retreat from all of that and take refuge in the park across the street with three healthy boys, all of them wide-eyed with the naïve assurance that if they just packed enough engines onto that model rocket, it could carry them off to Cygnus?

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