Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pride Goeth Before the Fall

By Mitchell

Out here in the rarefied air of the blogosphere, or at least on the right side of the keyboard, one of our favorite activities of recent days has been anticipating the bloodletting certain to occur in the Republican Party regardless of tonight’s outcome.

The so-called Obamacans (Christopher Buckley, David Brooks, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, et al) are, of course, the fulcrum around which this discussion swirls. If Obama wins, the fingers (many of them middle ones) will be pointed squarely at them. Their “betrayal” will be blamed at least in part for the party’s defeat, and they’ll find themselves either as part of the new administration, or at the heart of the attempt to build a “new” Republican Party. On the other hand, If McCain wins they’ll likely be shown the door. (And who can blame McCain, by the way, if he decides to do just that? For all that I’ve criticized his temper in the past, I can certainly understand why he’d want to purge the party of those who undermined him.)

There are, of course, reasons for such defections, if defections they be. Buckley long ago renounced his religious faith and became an agnostic; therefore, appeals to him based on the election’s moral compass would seem to be pointless. Brooks writes for The New York Times – 'nuff said. Frum isn’t a Christian, nor pro-life – he’s spent most of the last year or two urging the Republicans to move away from social issues. (By the way, this would seem to beg the question as to whether or not religious faith is essential to conservatism – and there will be a good time to discuss it. Someday.)

Most seem to agree that the most puzzling defection has been that of Peggy Noonan. She was a trusted conservative stalwart, a wordsmith who could string the alphabet together with the best of them, and whose Catholic faith had always seemed to inform her political thought. Therefore, her harsh criticism of the McCain-Palin ticket – and Palin in particular – has earned her the scorn of many conservatives.

Why did she do it? Some think she’s angling for a spot as press secretary to Obama. Others see the green-eyed monster at work. Still others decry her as an East Coast Elitist, one attempting to curry favor with the MSM. In an interview with K-Lo at NRO, Noonan tries to dismiss her influence as a columnist, which I find a bit disingenuous. Why does a columnist – or anyone, for that matter – write publicly unless they want their words to be read by others? And not only read, but agreed with. There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s why I do it. So you’ve got the megaphone, you stand in the bully pulpit, and you use it. Fine. But don’t try to downplay the results. You’d better want to make a difference, you’d better want to influence public opinion, or you’re only wasting your own time, and ours.

But, as much as I’ve liked and admired Noonan over the years, I always kept coming back to an innocuous line from a Wall Street Journal Opinion column of hers back in 2002. It was a very good column, by the way, a typical piece of Noonan craft, but it was the following that leapt out at me:

I now pray for strangers, happily. I am so proud of this, and relieved.

Ah, there we have it. Pride. I am so proud of this.

You know, I’m bad at prayer. I look at those who can get lost in prayer for hours at a time, and I wish I could achieve that level of communication. On occasion I feel as if reached a level of prayer that is higher than normal – a connection that is fairly solid. When this happens it gives me a feeling of warmth, of hope even. What it does not do is give me a sense of pride. But even though I’m not (as I said) very good at it, that’s not the only reason why I’m not proud.

Pride goeth before a fall.

Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Boasting of your faith is not a good thing. It just seems – wrong.

At the time I thought this an odd thing for Noonan to say, and I wondered if she weren’t getting a little ahead of herself in her spiritual growth. I don’t know if any of us ever reach the stage in our prayer lives (or our faith, for that matter) when we can afford the luxury of pride. But even if we should attain that rarefied air, we shouldn’t talk about it. If we do, we show either arrogance or ignorance. Maybe it’s just a mistake, maybe an ill-chosen word, maybe more than that. If I were her spiritual director, maybe I’d be a little concerned about that. Or maybe I’d be a little concerned with someone who makes such a big deal about it. The wheel turns, the finger points both ways, depending on which way the wind blows. But still I remember that line: I am so proud of this.

And no matter how marvelously she wrote in the following years, and how much I agreed with her, still that line refused to fade from my memory.

What it does mean is that Peggy Noonan, like all of us, is a flawed individual. Nothing more, nothing less. We’re all flawed, after all. Some more than others, but it’s been 2,000 years since we’ve seen the birth of a perfect Man, so there we are. We can’t expect her to be right all the time, and if (as I believe) she is dead wrong about this election, we shouldn’t be surprised. About half of all voters (give or take) are going to be wrong, so why should Noonan be any different? When we elevate pundits – or any other human being, for that matter – to a pedestal, we ought to watch out.

So maybe we shouldn’t feel betrayed by her. She’s only a columnist, a writer of words. We don’t enjoy a relationship with her that is elevated to the level at which betrayal can occur. She has shown herself to be other than some of us thought her to be, and the fault can lie with us as much as her.

Does this sound as if, after all I’ve written here, I now rise to defend her? No, not really.

For one thing, it is hard to understand how anyone who seems to have such a strong Catholic faith can say anything (politically) good about a man as dedicated to abortion rights as Obama is. So I’m disappointed in what she’s said. More than that, I disagree with her, strongly. I’m not sure that my opinion is any less worthy than hers, so I guess I’m entitled. And I admit to feeling a bit like saying, “What did you expect? Read what she’s written. There’s a flaw in her thinking.”

But then, our faith is never really perfect. Peggy Noonan’s isn’t, and neither is mine. For all that I’ve said here, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find that her faith is stronger, and better practiced, than mine.


And so we pray for her, and for ourselves. I’m not too proud to admit it.

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