Doctor Zero vs. Peggy Noonan

A long-form dissection of Noonan’s anti-Palinism:

Palin doesn’t “read anything,” you see. She’s probably not even literate. The moment Noonan is fretting over came when Katie Couric asked Palin which newspapers and magazines she reads regularly, and she couldn’t name one. Given the cratering circulation of print media, Palin is clearly in good company. I suspect the sin that truly damns her in Noonan’s eyes is her failure to read Peggy Noonan columns. At least America was spared the horror of a Vice President who doesn’t spend much time reading newspapers. Instead, we got a Vice President who should have left his debate with Palin in a straitjacket, and shows no sign of coherent thought at all. . . .

You can read the whole thing. Palin inevitably confronts a problem affecting nearly all busy people in the Information Age: With so much job-related communication to process, there is very little time for non-job-related reading.

People in the news business (e.g., Katie Couric) might consider it proof of erudition that someone regularly reads the New York Times or Newsweek, but many people simply don’t have the leisure. It’s merely the self-regarding snobbery of the chattering classes that hold that against Palin. The idea that the governor of Alaska needs to read the New York Times every day is silly.
I think Palin suffers in Peggy Noonan’s estimation by comparison to Ronald Reagan. When he first emerged as a national political figure with his 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech, Reagan was 53 years old and had spent years traveling the country as a spokesman for General Electric. He was a man of some wealth and, prior to 1966, when he ran for governor of California, also a man of much leisure.

California was a large, rich state, so that the governor had an extensive staff to which he could delegate work, leaving him more leisure than Palin would have as governor of Alaska. And between leaving the governorship in 1975 and becoming president in 1981, Reagan had another period of relative leisure, which he devoted to writing a newspaper column and doing daily radio broadcasts. He was therefore in the news business himself.

So if Noonan compares Palin to the Reagan she knew — a man in his 70s who had been studying and discussing national political issues for more than two decades — obviously Palin comes up short, through no real fault of Palin’s. The real mystery is exactly why Obama stands so comparatively high in Noonan’s esteem, even when it is increasingly clear that Obama’s reputation for erudition has been inflated by, among other things, a ghostwritten memoir.


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