(updated below - Update II - Update III)
In her Wall St. Journal column today, Peggy Noonan offers up a Santa-like checklist of which presidential candidates are "reasonable" and which ones aren't. In describing the attributes that Americans want in a President, she says: "I claim here to speak for thousands, millions." On behalf of the throngs for whom she fantasizes she speaks, Noonan proclaims: "We are grown-ups . . . We'd like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it."
This grown-up then proceeds to pronounce that Romney, McCain, Giuliani, Thompson and Duncan Hunter are all "reasonable" -- as are Biden, Dodd, Richardson and Obama (though too young and inexperienced to be President) -- but this is what she says about John Edwards:
John Edwards is not reasonable. . . . .[W]e can't have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can't.
So Peggy Noonan is a "grown-up." She goes on ABC News and MSNBC and writes for the Wall St. Journal in order to opine and is widely respected by our media elite as a mature political commentator. She knows that "the next American president will very likely face another big bad thing, a terrible day, or days." America therefore needs a President with "knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world."
John Edwards, however, is disqualified, because four years ago, he was caught red-handed brushing his hair before a television appearance -- "poofing," in Noonan's words, which isn't really a word at all, but rather, a British epithet for a male homosexual -- "Slang: Disparaging and Offensive" -- a synonym for "faggot." Noonan is making the same point Ann Coulter made: Edwards can't possibly be President because he's a faggot. And to make her "grown-up" case for this, she cites one of our national media's most talked-about political stories of both 2004 and again in 2007: Edwards' brushing of his hair.
What a stupid and vapid woman this is, but respected and admired by our media class because she fits right in with them -- endlessly impressed by her own sophistication, maturity and insight while drooling out platitudes one never hears except in seventh-grade cafeterias and on our political talk shows. As always, this isn't worth noting because the adolescent stupidity on display here is unique to Noonan, but precisely because it isn't. This is how our national elections are decided: by people like her, spewing things like this.
UPDATE: Several commenters have noted that "poofing hair" can also be slang for hair that protrudes out after blow-drying. I don't know if the meanings share a common etymology, but either way, Noonan's meaning is clear and identical to Coulter's: Edwards, because of his hair-brushing, isn't a real man and can't possibly be President (Giuliani's dressing up as a woman and McCain's singing merrily about bombing Iran -- both on You Tube -- do not, by contrast, negate their "reasonableness").
Here is more of Noonan's grown-up commentary, from 2004:
Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, "Where's Sally?"
He's responsible. He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, "I warned Joe about that furnace." And, "Does Joe have children?" And "I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it's formidable and yet fleeting." When the fire comes they talk.
Bush ain't that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain't that guy. Americans love the guy who ain't that guy.
Even as all of our media stars furrow their brow very seriously and tell us how the Bhutto assassination is an event of such major importance for our elections, this is the level of commentary they offer -- who "seems" stronger, more responsible, more adult-like, largely determined by a willingness to wage war and interfere in and manage the internal affairs of other countries -- or, to use Noonan's Bush-adoring formulation, who will "direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, 'Where's Sally?'"
UPDATE II: Just to resolve what is a completely secondary point here: the verb that refers to what one can do with one's hair is "to pouf" -- not "to poof," as Noonan wrote. Before writing this post, I checked numerous dictionaries to see if there was some alternative meanings for "poofing" -- as I wasn't aware of any -- and found none.
Regardless, the primary point is the stupidity of citing the Edwards hair video as a reason why he's not a "reasonable" candidate for President (because it calls into question his masculinity, a common Noonan theme). Whether Noonan meant "pouf," "poof" or intended to invoke both meanings, the point -- and her stupidity in this regard -- is exactly the same, and it's worth noting because, as indicated, it's illustrative of our media dialogue generally about our candidates.
Finally, for those questioning why I'm not writing about Benazir Bhutto's death, I try not to write about topics unless I think I have something to say about them worth saying. What's there to say at this point? Nobody even knows yet who is responsible for her assassination; it's been less than 24 hours since it occurred; Pakistan is an incredibly complex country; and none of this is susceptible to facile, instantaneous analysis, despite how prevalent such analysis is.
For those demanding to read something, here is among the best commentaries I've read, from former intelligence officer A.J. Rossmiller, who warns against "any kind of rush to judgment." I also think the claims about how this is going to alter everything in our elections are vastly overstated. Pundits with nothing to do typically claim that every news event will "transform" elections (in October of last year, North Korea announced it had tested a nuclear weapon, and -- that day -- people like Dick Morris breathlessly claimed that this changed everything, that it would dominate the midterm elections, that the outcome would be determined by who reacted best to the "North Korea crisis." Like most stories do, that "crisis" disappeared from the news cycle within 24 hours and I'd be surprised if a single vote was changed by it. Instantaneous analysis often engenders hysteria of this type).
Contrary to the prevailing views of our political and media elite -- virtually all of whom seem eager to debate how we should best resolve Pakistan's problems: demand elections? get rid of Musharraf? find a replacement for Bhutto? -- that country isn't our protectorate or our colony and I doubt that the average American voter wants candidates to prove that they can best manage Pakistan's internal political mess. We have substantial messes of our own and I suspect voters are more interested in how candidates will manage those.
UPDATE III: I always thought that Noonan's "Where's Sally?" column excerpted above was her most cringe-inducing, but Brad at Sadly, No digs up a Noonan column celebrating Bush's re-election that proves how wrong I was.