It’s been awhile since I enjoyed a Peggy Noonan column. She still owes a proper apology for her role in electing the current president and she’s been dead to me since taking the bait (and not doing her homework) on carried interest. But this one’s good and echoes something Jonah Goldberg (I think) often says: the Left are the aggressors in the Culture Wars that so poison our political climate.
Here she is in today’s WSJ, America and the Aggressive Left:
The constant mischief of the progressive left is hurting the nation’s morale. There are few areas of national life left in which they are not busy, and few in which they’re not making it worse. There are always more regulations, fees and fiats, always more cultural pressure and insistence.
The president brags he has a pen and a phone. He uses the former to sign executive orders. It is not clear why he mentioned the latter since he rarely attempts to bring legislators over to his side. Who exactly is he calling? The most hopeful thing he’s done is signal this week what he’ll be up to after he leaves. He will work with young minority men. Good. He is a figure of inspiration to them, and they need and deserve encouragement. This also leaves us understanding for the first time the true purpose of his so far unsuccessful presidency: to launch a meaningful postpresidency. I’m glad that’s clear.
But to American morale. Here one refers to recent polling data. Gallup in December had 72% of those polled saying big government is a bigger threat to the future than big business and big labor—a record high…
We are suffering in great part from the politicization of everything and the spread of government not in a useful way but a destructive one. Everyone wants to help the poor, the old and the sick; the safety net exists because we want it. But voters and taxpayers feel bullied, burdened and jerked around, which again is not new but feels more intense every day. Common sense and native wit tell them America is losing the most vital part of itself in the continuing shift of power from private to public. Rules, regulations, many of them stupid, from all the agencies—local, state, federal—on the building of a house, or the starting of a business. You can only employ so many before the new insurance rules kick in so don’t employ too many, don’t take a chance! Which means: Don’t grow. It takes the utmost commitment to start a school or improve an existing one because you’ll come up against the unions, which own the politicians.
It’s all part of the malaise, the sclerosis. So is the eroding end of the idea that religious scruples and beliefs have a high place that must culturally and politically be respected. The political-media complex is bravely coming down on florists with unfashionable views. On twitter Thursday the freedom-fighter who tweets as @FriedrichHayek asked: “Can the government compel a Jewish baker to deliver a wedding cake on a Saturday? If not why not.” Why not indeed. Because the truly tolerant give each other a little space? On an optimistic note, the Little Sisters of the Poor haven’t been put out of business and patiently await their day in court…
She covers the NSA (“real and present threat to your privace”), HHS (“never has to come up with true numbers on Obamacare”), EPA (top regional administrator brags about his philosophy of enforcement = crucifixion of random victims like in Rome), IRS (suppression of political opponents) and Obamacare (“a dark screwball comedy”) before closing:
People feel beset because they are. All these things are pieces of a larger, bullying ineptitude. And people know, they are aware.
Conservatives sometimes feel exhausted from trying to fight back on a million fronts. A leftist might say: “Yes, that’s the plan.”
But the left too is damaged. They look hollowed out and incoherent. Their victories, removed of meaning, are only the triumphs of small aggressions. They win the day but not the era. The result is not progress but more national division, more of a grinding sense of dislike. At first it will be aimed at the progressive left, but in time it will likely be aimed at America itself, or rather America as It Is Now. When the progressive left wins, they will win, year by year, less of a country.
UPDATE 3/10/14: Ramesh Ponnuru in Cross Purposes
In the dispute over the Arizona law, people who profess themselves to be dead set against using government to impose morality have cheered on exactly that. They see it as the only way to keep religious-conservative florists, bakers, and other businessmen from imposing their moral views on their customers. But this is true only if an insult, or a perceived insult, is an imposition. Only then can the old-fashioned pluralist answer to how to get along in the presence of differing moral views — keep the state out of it, and go to the shop down the street — be dismissed…
It is not impossible to devise an argument for leaving in place the rules against discrimination based on race while refusing to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. While gays and lesbians have often been shamefully mistreated, they do not suffer under any oppression as terrible as slavery and segregation were, and the extraordinary measures that we have taken to destroy and prevent the reemergence of those latter evils are not called for.
If we thought about freedom and discrimination that way, we would start with a presumption in favor of tolerating private discrimination that we would overcome only for a very strong reason. The moral force of the attack on Jim Crow has instead created a strong tendency in our culture to think of anti-discrimination as something close to an absolute principle — a tendency with far-reaching implications that Thomas Powers pondered in a 2001 essay in The Public Interest.
He noted that tolerance, government neutrality, and depoliticization were once the guiding ideals of liberalism. The anti-discrimination regime, he argued, weakens these ideals or even replaces them with a moralized politics and politicized morality. It takes the reshaping of opinion, through the marginalization and stigmatization of views it considers bigoted, as one of its main goals. A same-sex couple with a psychology shaped by classical liberalism might have seen the baker who refused to make them a wedding cake as sadly misguided, or a jerk. The new regime encourages them to see him as a civil-rights violator.