The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

21 January 2005

No Time For Nuance

Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite writers. Her approach combines observation and emotion with a well thought out intellectual analysis of the issues. Noonan always looks to how campaigns, Beltway policies and politicians are playing in the real America, something many in the stuffy end of the punditry are incapable of seeing.

I also value her willingness to challenge her own side- something that's not always appreciated.

Today, however, I think she's missing the mark in her Wall Street Journal piece on Bush's speech yesterday:

(Opinion Journal)

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president's evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.

No one will remember what the president said about domestic policy, which was the subject of the last third of the text. This may prove to have been a miscalculation.

It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.

I don't agree that this is a time for a President to exhibit nuance in a speech about foreign policy. To be frank, the cows are already out of the barn. We're at war in Iraq and we've been taking a tough line with several despots around the world. We're fighting against the most sinister terrorists, zealots and infiltrators the world has ever seen.

Do we want to be subtle, or hit them over their heads with rhetorical two-by-fours? The latter is the only acceptable approach.

This is the speech W's father would never have given and that's the best thing about it. We mean business and it's time to relish the real leadership we're getting from President Bush.


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