I really love Peggy Noonan, and I read her column as often as I can, but her analysis of the President's Inaugural Address was off the mark. Honestly, I think it was just plain wrong.
In answer to the President's calls for the nation to "…seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world," Ms. Noonan takes a condescending attitude. She applauds the "vision thing," but criticizes the vision:
Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
She sounds like a disappointed teacher, telling her overly ambitious student that he needs to understand how the world works:
One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.
Like so many pundits and professionals, Ms. Noonan tells us that we need to be realistic; we need to accept our failures, even embrace them.
I don't think anyone will deny that perfection is nearly impossible to achieve on this earth. Human beings are loaded with flaws and faults. Even Jesus wasn't perfect. However, is it right for us to think that, because we can't achieve perfection, we shouldn't seek it? Isn't it, in fact, the pursuit of perfection that leads us just a little closer to a better world?
Is it reasonable to say that, "…the most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible?" In 1987, when Ronald Reagan intoned, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," did any of us think that was possible? In 2005, it's easy for us to say that the fall of the wall, and communism, was inevitable. Most, including Ms. Noonan, would argue that Ronald Reagan saw this inevitability. Most of us, including the vast majority of the media, didn't. Most people cringed at those words, but those words emboldened those hiding in the "dark places" behind the Iron Curtain.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln appealed to an impossible vision, the reintegration of the Union and the restoration of peaceful co-existence.
With malice toward none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are now in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Were these challenges possible in 1865? Was Abraham Lincoln merely articulating the possible, or was he expounding on the ideal? Acrimony and anger festered between the North and South for years, even decades afterward. People in America, like people everywhere, have differences. They argue, the fight and sometimes they even hate. Excusing imperfection is just another "soft discrimination of lower expectations."
George W. Bush called for the eradication of tyranny from the face of the earth. Like Ronald Reagan and communism, Bush sees this eradication as the inevitable conclusion of the slow progress of human freedom. It is not rhetoric that accepts limitations and excuses failure that lifts the spirit. Words can change the world, and the greatest change is precipitated by the most ambitious of rhetoric.