Good insight (methinks) into this president’s current state of mind from Peggy Noonan

Camp season is over! Well, sort of over — there are always loose ends here and there to tie up, and my wife and I were already discussing plans for next year yesterday and this morning. But the intense part of the work is done, and life can get back to normal for a while.

After some catching up, that is.

A lot has built up over the last month or so, and if you are among those who have tried to get a hold of me and wondered if I dropped off of the face of the earth, please forgive me. I think I did better than normal this year in keeping up with other things during the whirlwind of camp days, but, to be sure, there are things I am only now getting to. I am not the most organized person in many areas of my life (“Duh,” rings the chorus of millions), but I am working on it.

Among the things that I am working on is catching up on some reading and news analysis. I had saved a link for myself to the July 4 WSJ opinion piece “The Daydream and the Nightmare” by Peggy Noonan–one of my all-time favorite contributors (even gave some of her speech-giving advice to campers in my Speech class at Teen Camp this year)–concerning her analysis of President Obama’s behavior in recent days. Under the subtitle was the blurb, “Obama isn’t doing his job. He’s waiting for history to recognize his greatness.” It seems to me that her column is spot on in its insightful summary of the president’s mindset. You can read it for yourself here: “The Daydream and the Nightmare” (my apologies if it is behind a paywall).

She makes the following comment concerning the president’s abysmal approval ratings:

We all know the reasons behind the numbers. The scandals that suggest poor stewardship and, in the case of the IRS, destructive political mischief. The president’s signature legislation, which popularly bears his name and contains within it the heart of his political meaning, continues to wreak havoc in marketplaces and to be unpopular with the public. He is incapable of working with Congress, the worst at this crucial aspect of the job since Jimmy Carter, though Mr. Carter at least could work with the Mideast and produced the Camp David Accords. Mr. Obama has no regard for Republicans and doesn’t like to be with Democrats. Internationally, small states that have traditionally been the locus of trouble (the Mideast) are producing more of it, while large states that have been more stable in their actions (Russia, China) are newly, starkly aggressive.

That’s a long way of saying nothing’s working.

Which I’m sure you’ve noticed.

"Can I just skip ahead to the part where history acknowledges I was awesome?" (image: Official Portrait from Change.gov)
“Can I just skip ahead to the part where history acknowledges I was awesome?” (image: Official Portrait from Change.gov)

Indeed, surely everybody has noticed. The world certainly has. But she points out that what everyone may not be noticing is the weird way in which the president is reacting to all of this.

I won’t go into all of those details–she lays them out nicely. She points out that it comes across like someone in a football game who is running out the clock, except that instead of running out the clock because he’s winning, he’s running out the clock while he is losing. Then she explains why, she believes, he is acting so oddly, and I think her insights are spot on.

Some of her comments:

Barack Obama doesn’t seem to care about his unpopularity, or the decisions he’s made that have not turned out well. He doesn’t seem concerned. A guess at the reason: He thinks he is right about his essential policies. He is steering the world toward not relying on America. He is steering America toward greater dependence on and allegiance to government. He is creating a more federally controlled, Washington-centric nation that is run and organized by progressives. He thinks he’s done his work, set America on a leftward course, and though his poll numbers are down now, history will look back on him and see him as heroic, realistic, using his phone and pen each day in spite of unprecedented resistance. He is Lincoln, scorned in his time but loved by history.

He thinks he is in line with the arc of history, that America, for all its stops and starts, for all the recent Supreme Court rulings, has embarked in the long term on governmental and cultural progressivism. Thus in time history will have the wisdom to look back and see him for what he really was: the great one who took every sling and arrow, who endured rising unpopularity, the first black president and the only one made to suffer like this.

That’s what he’s doing by running out the clock: He’s waiting for history to get its act together and see his true size.

Makes sense to me, and fits the picture pretty well painted by the actions of the man in the Oval Office, both during his time so far as president and even before. And Noonan’s comments about the dangers to the country in having a president with such a mindset also seem to me to be right. Again, the article is worth a read.

I would like to add a couple of my own observations.

I’ve known some that see large, malicious, conspiratorial plotting behind some of the president’s decisions, as if his personal goal is to leave the North American continent a smoking ruin, put on a bejeweled turban, and then fly off to live in a palace in the Middle East with college buddies from ISIS for the rest of his days–or, perhaps, to complete his initiation into the Illuminati in 2016 by offering up to the inquisitor the caged souls of everyone who didn’t read the “I give up my soul” fine print before signing on to Obamacare.

However, rather than insufficiently supported ideas, to me a comment attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte has always seemed much more likely to apply:

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Over the last almost six years, the president has not struck me as a particularly competent individual when it comes to governing. I don’t mean that as a critique of him as a human being, just as a leader. And believe me, I’ve been incompetent at a lot of things, before, so I know it when I see it. (Please no agreement with that in the comments. Just pretend with me that I am being funny and not accurate.)

He seems caught up in a vision of a politically progressive America–lessened and humbled for the reasons he believes it should be lessened and humbled (not the same as God’s reasons, by the way) and in the ways he believes it should be lessened and humbled, but still able to become the generally-religion-free, academics-and-the-state-know-best, no-one-too-rich-and-every-one-taken-care-of “dream nation” he and many of his philosophical persuasion have always felt it could be. Their own version of a “city on a hill.” As Ms. Noonan describes, I think the president believes strongly that he has set the country on such a course, and that is what is most important to him. The rest is just sort of “meh.” The pesky trifle of a major airliner being downed, murdering 298 people in the Ukraine? A distraction. 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? Bad timing. After all, if the goal is to teach the world that America won’t swoop in and save you, it doesn’t do the cause any good to, you know, save anybody.

The mundane explanations fit best. No dramatic, secret plans to round up and murder America’s Christians, as I saw recently claimed on the Internet, for instance. Rather, it’s all a lot more mundane: the dream of a Supertolerant Nation™ in which everyone is enlightened enough to tell such Christians to shut up and keep their moralizing to themselves — all in a spirit of Supercivility™, of course. Rather than darkly conspiratorial, it’s sadly mundane. It’s a simple-to-understand ideology, and it’s more than sufficient to explain the horrendous state of leadership we are currently experiencing. (Though it isn’t the whole story, as I’ll eventually get to.)

And it fits prophecy. God says that Israel (not just modern Israel, but the U.S. and the U.K.) will lack even halfway decent leadership before it topples, and do we ever. Read Isaiah 3:1-7. It describes a people desperate for a decent ruler–anyone. Yet, God says that there won’t even be a “diviner” (v.2) available. Even the sorts of leaders who may have been heathens but were at least competent will be unavailable. And as for “children” being the people’s “princes” (v.4), I must say that–without saying that the verse doesn’t have a certain literal meaning to it–I don’t know when the leaders of my nation have ever seemed to me so childish in all of my life. And I mean that for both parties.

We are experiencing quite a leadership crisis. And it is far from over.

Still, that’s a lot of words, and I said I would mention two observations. Here’s the other one.

More important than the matter of competency, the president has furthered the sins of the nation.

On one hand, I’ve seen some Pretend Prophets claim that the current president is “apocalyptic” and I get it: Repeatedly using a word like that makes for increased Internet hits and book sales (however sad and ineffective those hits and book sales remain, it is at least a higher number of sad and ineffective hits and book sales). It makes for sensational titles and headlines and sounds end-of-the-worldy. Sensationalism sells. Duh. But it also adds to “prophecy burn out” and is done in a misleading spirit, however well-intended. Yes, indeed, this president has helped moved this country along the path to further spiritual disease. Presidents Bush and Clinton before him did their fair share, as well. And the next president (Mrs. Clinton? Mr. Bieber?) will likely do the same. God’s prophecies deserve to be treated with more respect than that, and, in the end, for each person grabbed by an (inevitable) parade of such abusively provocative titles and overused/misused adjectives like “apocalyptic,” two or three more will be turned off by the shallowness of such desperate pandering. It grabs the attention while simultaneously lessening the impact and doing more harm than good. Still, common sense isn’t rampant in the Self-Appointed Prophet crowd (or even uncommon sense–or any sense, at all, really), so I don’t seeing it let up anytime soon.

On the other, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen some vomitously sinful decisions made during this administration’s tenure. And that’s what concerns me. Politics is politics. Progressivism, conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, Republicans versus Democrats, Pirates versus Ninjas, whatever… God can make even the goofiest decisions work if the nation is seeking Him and His way above all else.

And the worst missteps of this presidency aren’t political. They are moral. The powerful support given to the abortion industry. (I do note the wish-it-were-funny irony of seeing some who decried Vietnam vets in the 60s as being “baby killers” now in office making baby killing our official government policy.) The endorsement of homosexual “marriage” from the highest office in the nation. This is increasingly an immoral government (and not just in the Executive Branch). Its distance from God is increasing, and its velocity along that trajectory is increasing, as well.

Concerning politics, let the nation do what it will. God asks His people to step aside from that. But not to sit on their hands–rather, He asks them to focus on those things that matter more: the nation’s relationship to its God. And this president has been a big supporter of severing that relationship–as weak and tenuous as it was, already. Not that this has been his official policy, but a policy’s meaning and intentions can’t be divorced from its effects.

Returning the nation to the Constitution is not going to return it to God. Getting a Republican (or a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or a Conservative, or a Liberal, or a whatever-Ron-Paul-is/was) in office is not going to return it to God. Let others wage those fights–they aren’t God’s fights. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).

Our task is not to explain to the leaders of this world, including our current president, how his government of this world falls short of the ideals of America’s forefathers–who also, by the way, crafted a government of this world. Our task is to show them, and everyone, how it falls short of the ideals of the government of the world to come–how it falls short of the ideals of the Forefather of that government.

Yes, a politically competent president who had the ability to see at least a little more accurately what his decisions and non-decisions are doing to the United States, and to the world, for what will be very little gain in the end would be nice. But competency isn’t enough. The nation needs a leader who desires to seek God in all of his decisions. And we haven’t had that in a long time. Frankly, we won’t get that until Christ returns to be that leader.

And, still, a more moral, God-seeking leader would not be enough. We need a moral people who desire to seek God in their lives. Those who stack a world of blame on the president are missing the point. One of the nice things about a real democracy (OK, a republic, for you sticklers out there) is that the leaders tend to reflect the people. And concerning our current president, I personally find him pretty reflective of the people he and those around him in the halls of power so poorly govern–at least in the ways that fundamentally matter in the end.

Should a leader arise amongst the citizenry of the United States actually proposing to turn this nation to God in a serious and meaningful way, the ways God is looking for, is there any hope that this people would elect such a one? Is there any hope that this people would allow the radical changes such a one would promote?

That’s the beauty of the New Covenant. People aren’t just forgiven of their sins and rebellion and left otherwise as they are. They are transformed from the inside out (Hebrews 8:10), so that the world will have a godly leader (in fact, God) and they, themselves, will become godly people. It takes both. As Deborah and Barak sang: “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD!” (Judges 5:2) — it takes both. (And, I should note: That was Barak, not Barack.)

Yes, Israel is suffering from a leadership crisis. But it’s not without cause (cf. Prov. 26:2). And the cause isn’t deep, vast, global conspiracies or the Illuminati or FEMA or even Wall Street “fat cats.” The cause is us. And it isn’t our lack of political savvy or our bad public policy or our forgetting about the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or our ignorance of secret government plots. It’s our sin.

It’s simple. No need to complicate it. No need to add to it. And no excuse for being distracted from it.

Want to fix the country? Address the sin.

All other efforts are little more than band-aids on a severed limb.

And, wow, what was meant to be a simple “Hey, look at this nice Peggy Noonan article” blog post has turned into a bit of a rant. My apologies! If you weren’t counting on such a long post, feel free to stick to the stuff above about the WSJ article. 🙂

Please pray for the country, even as you “sigh and cry” for it (cf. Ezek. 9:4). Pray for our leaders, including the president, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). I know I need to be forgiven for the times I have forgotten to do so.

And let’s do our part, individually, to avoid adding to this nation’s mounting sins, and, collectively, to support the preaching of Jesus Christ’s message to this world–about its current state, its coming reckoning, and the hope of the kingdom He is bringing to replace it.

End of rant.

18 thoughts on “Good insight (methinks) into this president’s current state of mind from Peggy Noonan

  1. Melissa Morris

    I appreciate your ‘ranting’. You brought up so many points that I’ve thought about, but haven’t spoken. And the bejeweled turban…priceless. 🙂

  2. Just Say "No" To Politics

    Peggy Noonan probably doesn’t want readers to remember that she endorsed then-Senator Obama for President in 2008: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122539802263585317

    Interestingly, Mrs. Noonan has deleted that WSJ article from her own website at peggynoonan.com, but it lives on at the WSJ site for all to see.

    If we trust and appreciate her insights now, why shouldn’t we have trusted them in 2008? Or is it possible that Mrs. Noonan is simply another Beltway political opportunist, and that her current comments say less about the reality of the situation than they say about whom she seeks as her next meal-ticket?

    Here’s another columnist’s take on Noonan as a political analyst:
    http://www.debbieschlussel.com/3591/peggy-noonan-delusional-obama-gusher-rev-wright-apologist-phony-conservative/

    Yes, Peggy Noonan is very articulate. But is she objective… or does she just happen to agree with an agreeable perspective this time? Methinks you were especially perceptive in quoting Napoleon, who may have hit much closer to the mark with his brief and incisive analysis… which may also put into context Noonan’s likely-self-interested comments.

  3. Greetings, Mr. “Just Say ‘No’ To Politics” and thanks for stopping by.

    Your characterization of Ms. Noonan is way off, as are your comments about the article you linked to. Hopefully interested folks will actually read it and see that for themselves, so thanks for the link. I’m not sure why she should be faulted for finding gracious things to say about both candidates (as she did in that essay, which was not the “endorsement” you seem to think it was). In fact, in that very essay, she warned of many of the very things we saw after Mr. Obama’s election. Actually, the essay was rather prescient in a number of matters and is a worthwhile read these six years later.

    Is she always 100% right? Of course not. Anything that doesn’t sit between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 falls short of that target, she Ms. Noonan has certainly made hers. She is quite the apologist for the papacy, for example. And even if she had once written that Stalin was a good babysitter and she longed to be Hitler’s girlfriend, it wouldn’t mean that her current comments should be discounted. The merits of her observations about the president’s current actions (or inactions) and mindset stand or fall on their own, regardless of what one thinks of her past comments. And, in this case, they strike me as very good, complemented—not contradicted—by the quote from Monsieur Bonaparte.

    Thanks, again, for writing! If you’d like to comment again in the future, feel free, but please do more than attempt to discredit someone. Ideas should stand on their own merits.

  4. “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

    Replace “incompetence” with “stupidity” and you have Hanlon’s Razor, which (after I pointed it out to you once) you then refuted with someone else’s nod to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.”

    It’s getting to where a lot of people would argue for one viewpoint or the other with regard to President Obama. Alas.

  5. David Machancik

    Too bad there are no qualifications to be President (other than where you are born). we get people who are very good at winning elections. and if they can win the second time they are home free unless they break the law and are unpopular with the ruling party at the same time.
    Great blog – enjoyed every word!

  6. obeirne

    Mr. Smith, Speaking as an outsider looking in, though observing President Obama’s performance on the international scene, I have to agree with you in your conclusions and your belief that ” the sin must be ” addressed. Is there a country in the Western hemisphere which addresses their sin – those which could be described as having had the Judeo-Christian values – and to which these same conclusions do not apply? I have wondered whether the first thing any of the leaders do in the morning when they get out of bed is address God in prayer and ask Him to guide them in their actions in ruling their respective nations. Somehow I doubt it very much! It is highly unlikely that any would pray to God in the manner of the prophet Daniel which is described in Daniel 9:3-10. Last year the Irish Parliament sanctioned abortion and next year it is planned to hold a referendum proposing a change the clause in the Irish constitution which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The change will recognize marriage between men and men, women and women. The ” great rebellion ” has begun and is increasing in ferocity and momentum!

  7. Thank you, Mr. Smith, for articulating that the deeper issue in America is not the moral failings of her leader(s), but rather it is the moral failing of her citizenry which are causing all of our ills. I think that we can too easily fall pray to the idea that a righteous leader could fix the country – as you pointed out, in America (and any other democracy/republic) is the citizenry who steer (or crash) the ship. [A portion of Mr. Armstrong’s autobiography comes to mind… predicting the Great Depression – check the boiler, not the thermostat, to see what the temperature will be in the future.]

    Seeing that I missed your speech class at camp this year … would you mind sharing what advice from Ms. Noonan you thought worthwhile?

  8. Howdy, A. Pomicter! Happy to do so. She had written once that if you are speaking to a crowd and feel nervous, go ahead and admit that you are nervous. Most people are sympathetic to concerns about public speaking and will likely see your speech more positively in that sympathy and will appreciate your honesty and sharing of vulnerability, plus, as I’ve seen in the classroom, it takes a little pressure off of you to feel like you have to get things “perfect” or to feel like you have to pretend to have things together better than you do. The first effect results in being perceived well and warming the audience to your presentation, and the second effect has what could be seen as an unexpected effect of improving your performance (though you have set the stage in your mind for falling short, because you feel less pressure to pretend you are more competent than you feel, you actually do a better job). If it would harm one’s perceived authority or credibility, then it shouldn’t be done (for the President to admit that he feels nervous about giving a speech would be damaging), but for most of us in most situations it can be a real aid in helping us get over the nervousness. And I have found, even on the telecast, that if I am anxious about the program I am shooting — generally because I care so much about the topic and I feel the weight of trying to communicate something so important — it helps me to mention that during the telecast. I want the audience to know that the topic means that much to me, because I want it to mean as much to them, too. I’ve been moved by her advice to carefully state that anxiousness in a way that hopefully does not lessen my credibility but, yet, which does give the audience some insight (I hope) into what I am thinking and feeling and how important it is to me that they understand the amazing truth we are trying to share. I hope this helps! [And I apologize for being so wordy. Clearly I have other lessons to learn about communicating! 🙂 ]

  9. sheri

    I once gave you a lemon. Now I give you, a slick, ranting, political, comedian who couldn’t stick to the WSJ article, a prayer for some honey… that you lead students to a deeper level of brotherly compassion with respect for the Family God He is longing to create. Only Laodiceans enjoy bullying or find it amusing. Hopefully you appreciate the lemonade. Hurting others hurts me, especially within the Family of God. God doesn’t like it either. I’m a Philadelphian. We need leadership so we can be mature Christians. We need the truth. We need mutual respect. Especially for our brothers in Christ. We need love. We need to watch. Mr. HWA was the master of sensationalism and he was very successful eventually. I’m going to give [a particular fellow] a nice, loving, donation. I am never bored with his writings.

  10. Howdy, and thanks for the critique. Allow me to return the favor! First, your bullying detector seems to be off. Secondly, pointing out the mistakes of false prophets is something with a pretty good biblical pedigree. Thirdly, let me update your dictionary. Sensationalism is “the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest or excitement.” Mr. Armstrong was the master of sensational writing and headlining, yes, but, no, he did not practice “sensationalism.” Mr. Armstrong did not make the little sacrifices of truth one has to make to practice sensationalism. Mistakes, sure. Purposefully misleading descriptions, no. And, yes, he was very successful eventually. But he did so with a dedication to the truth missing in the example of sensationalism I mentioned. And it’s pretty hard to be Philadelphian without a love of the truth.

    Yes, we need love and mutual respect and to watch. But we also need truth. If being entertained with someone is your measure of what has your attention, you will certainly find an unending list of candidates. I hope, though, you will give truth greater consideration in your next evaluation. And I hope that you, too, appreciate the lemonade. 🙂

  11. If I may add to your dictionary, Mr. Smith (good reply in my judgment, BTW): it’s hard to fit the critique Jesus Christ gives the Church of Laodicea and be a good bully. People who try to please both God and the world and end up pleasing neither don’t bully well – unless perhaps it’s out of political correctness, which is the one thing you don’t wield here.

  12. obeirne

    As an outsider looking in, I think your analysis is spot on, Mr. Smith. Prior to Obama’s some visitors from the US arrived in my parish and village from whence their families had originated. To be precise, these visitors were from Indiana Indianapolis. I found their negativity toward Obama quite vehement. All of them were staunch Republicans. Some of them speculated that Obama would be assinated if elected President of the US. Some time later a first cousin of mine and his wife, his mother and my aunt had emigrated to the US and Indianapolis in the 1920’s. This may have been after Obama getting into the White House. Both of them were and are staunch Republicans. Their criticism and opposition to him was extrenely strong and they debounced his as a liar. Both before and after Obama’s election, I didn’t come to any conclusion on him and his abilities, but waited to see how he would perform, although I was aware of the conslusion by his opponents that he was little more than an untried, untested community leader having no business experience and who had never dealt with major problems. I knew of his left-wing leanings. Since then, now that he’s into his second term, his shortcomings are all to clear to see. It appears that he was not and is not presidential material at all, but little more than a community leader out of his depth. I may be wrong, but it seems he is not one who seeks wise counsel from others, but relies primarily on his own. It also appears self-evident that he is a prisoner of his socialist ideology – that his manner of thinking is straitjacketed because of the socialist dogma to which he aheres so doggedly. Has there been anybody in the close circle with which he surrounds him told him bluntly that he is wrong, as he has been too often? Are they all sycophants who continually tell him he’s right, even though common sense says differently? The enemies of the US, such as Putin, treat him with contempt and even the most unobservant must have noticed how that impacts on the standing of the US worldwide. A sad state of affairs in my opinion.

  13. obeirne

    Please excuse the typographical errors in my comment. I was in too much of a hurry and didn’t check for spelling ” errors ” before I submitted. Post in haste, repent at leisure! 😉

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