Peggy Noonan's "wisdom": Build Keystone XL so American boys will become men

America's worst pundit wants to build Keystone XL so we can impress the world and build character in wayward youths

Published November 21, 2014 6:35PM (EST)

Peggy Noonan has one of the most high-profile jobs in American media. She’s a weekly political columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the country’s largest newspaper by circulation, which also hosts her irregularly updated blog. The Sunday shows seek her out when filling the ranks of their weekly pundit panels. She’s among the more influential commentators in American media, and the fact that she inhabits this perch despite being objectively terrible at her job should obliterate whatever faith you have in the concept of meritocracy.

Noonan’s chief failing is one that afflicts many pundits: She generally has no idea what she’s talking about. Her analysis is powered largely by her own warped perception of politics and policy, which she confidently ascribes to the rest of the country. Peggy Noonan always seems to know exactly what “America” is thinking, and this often results in her being hilariously wrong.

Last month she chastised public health officials for their refusal to impose a travel ban on countries suffering through Ebola outbreaks, calling it insulting to the intelligence of the American people. “If we don’t momentarily close the door to citizens of the affected nations,” she wrote, “it is certain that more cases will come into the U.S.” Her recommendation – the thing she actually wrote in her widely read and influential column – was to think like “a group of 11-year-olds,” who would surely understand the need for a ban. “Eleven-year-olds would get this one right without a lot of struggle.” No ban was imposed, and no Ebola-infected people have flown into the U.S., dealing a rough blow to the policy wisdom of sixth graders.

Today, Noonan weighs in yet again on some “great domestic issues” facing the nation and demonstrates yet again that she doesn’t actually understand politics and policy as they exist outside of her own head.

On the Affordable Care Act, Noonan thinks that it’s been dealt a fatal blow by Grubergate (it hasn’t) and tries to sketch out a way forward based on “wisdom.” Here’s her recommendation:

I don’t know how ObamaCare will go, but it won’t last as it is. If the White House had wisdom, they’d declare that they’d won on the essential argument—health coverage is a right for all—and go back to the drawing board with Congress. The only part of the ObamaCare law that is popular is its intention, not its reality. The White House should declare victory and redraw the bill. But the White House is a wisdom-free zone.

This is laughable, absurd and completely wrong. “Obamacare” is unpopular, but many of its most important features – guaranteed coverage for preexisting conditions, expanded Medicaid, allowing young people to stay on their parents’ health plans, tax credits to buy insurance – are pretty well liked. But the White House has won the argument, she contends, so the obvious next step is for President Obama to completely retreat and give in to Republican demands to scrap his signature domestic policy achievement. And then he should work on devising a new health law with Congress, which will be completely controlled by the party that does not believe health coverage is a right, and which has defined itself by its ferocious opposition to working with Obama on anything, healthcare policy most of all.

This, she maintains, is “wisdom.”

Noonan also shared her thoughts on the Keystone XL pipeline, which … well, here, just read it:

And there is the Keystone XL pipeline and the administration’s apparent intent to veto a bill that allows it. There the issue is not only the jobs the pipeline would create, and not only the infrastructure element. It is something more. If it is done right, the people who build the pipeline could be pressed to take on young men—skill-less, aimless—and get them learning, as part of a crew, how things are built and what it is to be a man who builds them.

On top of that, the building of the pipeline would show the world that America is capable of coming back, that we’re not only aware of our good fortune and engineering genius, we are pushing it hard into the future. America’s got her hard-hat on again. America is dynamic. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Not just this endless talk of limits, restrictions, fears and “Oh, we’re all going to melt in the warm global future!”

I am completely at a loss for why Keystone XL, among the many construction jobs available to young men (but not women, apparently), would be uniquely capable of transforming “skill-less, aimless” young men into real American manly men of manly valor. Apparently the pipeline will carry not just horribly toxic tar-sands oil, but also good old-fashioned American gumption (imported from Canada).

And I’m absolutely baffled at the suggestion that the world will stand up and take notice of American engineering and dynamism because we successfully built a long metal pipe. Not three weeks ago, the doors opened at One World Trade Center, the tallest building in America’s largest city which was built on the site of the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history and is a very deliberate symbol of American perseverance. Seems likely the world would have noticed that, but maybe they didn’t because they’re so eagerly focused on whether we’ll get cracking on the big tube to Canada.

These are terrible arguments for building a pipeline, but Peggy Noonan believes this is what America and the rest of the world think about Keystone because it’s what she thinks about Keystone. It’s all nonsense, and utterly worthless as analysis. And yet, don’t be surprised if you see Peggy Noonan seated at the “Meet the Press” round table this Sunday rendering judgment on these same issues.

By Simon Maloy

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