Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Roger Rosenblatt of the Right
Tom Smith

I finally realized who it is that Peggy Noonan reminds me of and why I wish she would just stop.  It's Roger Rosenblatt.  You don't see him around much these days (is he still alive?).  But in the '80's he was much in evidence, blathering in his deeply pretentious yet relentlessly middle-brow way about the most topical of the topical.  God he was painful to listen to.  Nobody acheived a higher ratio of sheer opininated gas to actual content, the actual content being some thoroughly distilled bromide of public television contributor class.  You'd need an astrophysicist to explain the profound vacuities he was able to acheive.  Anyway, Peggy Noonan has something of the unmourned Rosenblatt in her, only instead of pieties of the leftish New England middle-brow liberal arts major class of '65, we get the pieties of the (very) soft traditionalist Right.  After Obama, will we still have Christmas trees?  Martha Stewart get togethers (or rather the sort of get togethers that inspire Martha)?  Will docksiders still be scuffed and penny loafers still have their pennies?  Or will we because of inflation have to put those phony gold dollars in them?  At some point, one can only quote:

 I spoke to a Manhattan-based psychiatrist who said there is an uptick in the number of his patients reporting depression and anxiety. He believes part of the reason is that we're in a new place, that "When people move into a new home they increasingly recognize the importance of their previous environment." Our new home is postprosperity America; the old one was the abundance; we miss it. But he also detected a political dimension to his patients' anguish. He felt that many see our leaders as "selfish and dishonest," that "our institutions have been revealed as incompetent and undependable." People feel "unled, overwhelmed," the situation "seemingly unsalvageable." The net result? He thinks what he is seeing, within and without his practice, is a "psychological pandemic of fear" as to the future of things—of our country, and even of mankind.

So where does that leave us? The writer and philosopher Laurens van der Post, in his memoir of his friendship with Carl Jung, said, "We live not only our own lives but, whether we know it or not, also the life of our time." We are actors in a moment of history, taking part in it, moving it this way or that as we move forward or back. The moment we are living now is a strange one, a disquieting one, a time that seems full of endings.

Too bad there's no pill for that.

Oh man.  Jesus give me patience.  A Manhattan psychiatrist?  You mean, not one in oh, West Hogwater? Did he have one of those worn Persian rugs?  And Carl Jung? Lauren van der Post??  Will somebody please send Peggy a stack of good books to read so we can be spared this nonsense?  "We are actors in a moment of history, taking part in it, moving it this way or that as we move forward or back."  Boy, you've got me there.  Both forward and back? That's a home truth all right.  We are living in "a strange [time], a disquieting one, a time that seems full of endings"?  Oh twaddle and piffle. Next you'll be telling us you can smell it in the air.  Besides, we are not actors, and we don't like your show.  I don't anyway.  We are real people with real little lives and it's not a drama. OK, here's just one rule of thumb I will give you, free of charge:  There is a very high probability that anything a Manhattan psychiatrist tells you, whatever it is, is just complete and total shit.  There, we've made some progress already. And you, you should stop acting that that lady in the blue dress leaning back crying ohhhh! ohhhhh! at the opening of PBS's Mystery series.  She's very silly.

I don't have my own column in the WSJ, but I would think of it like being a doctor. Instead of first do no harm, it's first, don't really insult anybody's intelligence.  If that means a whole column without reaching for some vacuous cosmic waffle, well so be it.

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Tom Smith


Thanks Tom, you (and a glass of red wine) have improved my mood considerably.

Posted by: Randy | Mar 14, 2009 7:09:00 PM

Dude, you are far too good for the WSJ. Don't change.

Rosenblatt had something precious that Noonan lacks: a sense of humor. He went downhill when he started taking himself seriously. Or maybe it was when an editor told him: We like your humor columns, can you start doing something serious on current events? Many a good act is spoiled by success.

Noonan seems to have run out of original material and is left with earnestness and psychobabble. I used to read all of her columns but now read them rarely.

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 15, 2009 3:09:26 AM

Conservatism demads the ability and desire to stand completely alone in an opionion not held by others in the room. All qualities of plain stubbornmess or mental defect aside, it is a fact that few people have that quality. Liberalism demands the quality we have in abundance--agreement. In controlled experiment after experiment, over two thirds of us will do almost anything the group will do, no matter how preposterous. Of the remainder, no more than one sixth of the broad masses will simply not waver from a closely held opinion, even when that opinion is over the relative length of two lines.
Peggy was ok only so long as her environment was a Reagan environment. She was fitting in then; she is fitting in now. That is our DNA. She is normal.

Posted by: james wilson | Mar 15, 2009 9:28:00 AM

Whenever I hear or read people talk about how BAD things are now I think about those pictures one sees from the Oklahoma dust bowl. Particularly this. I just think, shut up.

And I agree about Peggy. I used to think she had a lot to say. The snobbishness of her writings about Palin really shocked me.

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) | Mar 15, 2009 10:30:37 AM

Can't do links? Here's the pic.

Posted by: Laura(southernxyl) | Mar 15, 2009 10:31:11 AM

So.....did you like her column or not?

Posted by: Can't tell | Mar 15, 2009 11:09:52 AM

Oh, no, no more buttered scones for me, mater, I'm off to pay the grand piano! (

Posted by: Timothy Sandefur | Mar 15, 2009 11:19:11 AM

It was the best of times, and the worst of times. Huuum, where the dickens have I heard that before?

Posted by: Phil Cave | Mar 15, 2009 3:48:34 PM

I like Lauren Van Der Post. Don't know much about him, or about literature generally, but I saw the David Bowie movie "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," back in '82 or '83, which caused me to read the story on which it is based, which is Lauren Van Der Post's "The Seed and the Sower." The prose was too flowery, but a pretty good novel or memoir, and pretty provocative, I thought.

But I ain't one of them fancy people like you, what with your blog on "law, politics, and culture" and all.

Posted by: Brian | Mar 15, 2009 8:02:43 PM

And unlike Van Der Post, you probably didn't father a child by a 14 year old girl in your care, either.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Mar 16, 2009 5:23:34 AM

Re: "You don't see him around much these days (is he still alive?)."

Roger Rosenblatt recently wrote an article in The New Yorker:

Roger Rosenblatt, Personal History, “Making Toast,” The New Yorker, December 15, 2008, p. 44

PERSONAL HISTORY about the death of the writer’s daughter, Amy, at the age of thirty-eight.

Posted by: Marc | Mar 16, 2009 6:01:29 AM

I noticed that she seemed to start to turn out what I considered to be whimsical drivel right after 9/11. I just can't bear to read her anymore. Her stuff seems like what a right-wing Oprah would turn out. And I have always considered Oprah to be just an emotional vampire.

Posted by: New Reader | Mar 16, 2009 8:34:54 AM

Not having even a smidgeon of the talent of Tom Smith, I could not put my finger on why I can't stand Peggy Noonan anymore, except that she seems to have run out of ideas. Mr. Smith describes it perfectly. THANKS!

Posted by: rockwell_lancer | Mar 22, 2009 10:31:12 PM

If you knew anything about writing which you obviously don't, you would know that Roger Rosenblatt is STILL one of the greatest influential writers of our time, if not the best. Maybe when you do decide to figure it out, I may decide myself to listen to what you have to say.

Posted by: Roz Rousian | Aug 12, 2009 1:35:32 PM

Roger Rosenblatt is still around. He recently published a book, Making Toast. It chronicles the sudden and tragic loss of his beloved daughter, Amy. The book follows him, and his wife, as they move in with their son in law to help care for the three small children she left behind.

Posted by: Joan Marie | Mar 15, 2010 8:33:53 AM

Umm... what books do you conservatives read - or are they merely pamphlets masquerading as essays by the departed windbag Podhoretz?

Posted by: B | Jan 6, 2011 4:39:12 AM