Peggington. We love Peggington so much, and we don’t even care who knows! In this week’s very special Thanksgiving edition of her Wall Street Journal psychodiary, “Declarations,” the Noonanism — an embarrassingly insular worldview in which no personal anecdote is void of world-historical spiritual import — has been cranked deep into the red. Here’s what Peggy’s thankful for this weekend: that the mysterious Negro president has been such a delight so far; that she doesn’t have to see poor people on the street; and that God safely carries her around on airplanes when she needs to travel. We will focus on the second and the third.
Sometimes you read these columns and all you want to do is punch Ronald Reagan in the face:
I am thankful for something we’re not seeing. One of the weirdest, most perceptually jarring things about the economic crisis is that everything looks the same. We are told every day and in every news venue that we are in Great Depression II, that we are in a crisis, a cataclysm, a meltdown, the credit crunch from hell, that we will lose millions of jobs, and that the great abundance is over and may never return. Three great investment banks have fallen while a fourth totters, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 31% in six months. And yet when you free yourself from media and go outside for a walk, everything looks . . . the same.
Everyone is dressed the same. Everyone looks as comfortable as they did three years ago, at the height of prosperity. The mall is still there, and people are still walking into the stores and daydreaming with half-full carts in aisle 3. Everyone’s still overweight. (An evolutionary biologist will someday write a paper positing that the reason for the obesity epidemic of the past decade is that we were storing up food like squirrels and bears, driven by an unconscious anthropomorphic knowledge that a time of great want was coming. Yes, I know it will be idiotic.) But the point is: Nothing looks different.
Well, shit. It looks like we’re going to have make another pot of coffee laced with Adderall… back in five. [Pause]
You’ll noticed the simple Noonanization conceit in the above passage: she takes a standard news event that’s backed with empirical data — a free-falling economy, in this case — and refuses to engage with it as such ; no, Peggy is far too self-aware of her writerly perch for that, and she must tackle the news through her creative lens: when Peggy Noonan leaves her Upper East Side apartment for a morning constitutional, does she see all of these “poor people” the news keeps ragging on about? Where are the hobos fighting over chunks of raw sirloin, or the street urchins giving handjobs for a penny?
In the Depression people sold apples on the street. They sold pencils. Angels with dirty faces wore coats too thin and short and shivered in line at the government surplus warehouse. There was the Dust Bowl, and the want of the cities. Captains of industry are said to have jumped from the skyscrapers of Wall Street. (Yes, those were the good old days. Just kidding!) People didn’t have enough food.
They looked like a catastrophe was happening.
We do not. It’s as if the news is full of floods but we haven’t seen it rain.
“People didn’t have enough food.”
You wonder sometimes if, when Peggy’s writing certain columns, she ever has a nanosecond or two when she realizes, “Oh heavens, my schtick in this instance is not so much enlightening as it is making me sound like an unbelievably vapid, superficial sack of vomit.” Well, Peggy, things will start to “look” much worse, soon, a year or so from now — we’re just getting started now, babe! — when the hobo hordes break into the White House and eat Barack Obama’s brain on live television. In the meantime, if you want to see the “rain,” check out images of the miles-long stretches of abandoned housing developments in such places as California and Nevada. It’s not apples or pencils, but you can’t have everything.
So where is GDII happening? Right now mostly in conversations between wives and husbands, in families and among friends, about selling, about digging in, about layoffs, and not taking chances, and reduced income, and fear.
You’re getting warmer! We’ve bolded some crucial words that you should focus on more. See, Peggy, many average mortals realize that we’re in a bad economy when they “lose lots of money,” unlike you, who will only understand it when 1930s-era hobo anachronisms start showing up on the corner of Park & 79th.
We’ve gotten through roughness before. Of things to be thankful for, I personally include this. I traveled this year, and when I fly I say a prayer that has become a ritual: “Dear God, put your big hands under this plane and lift it up, and carry it forward through the air untouched and unharmed by other objects. And may its inner workings work. And put us down softly in our place of destination, and return us safely to our homes, and to those in whose lives we are enmeshed.”
If you were sitting next to a person on a standard plane ride who was saying these insane things about God, uhh, carrying an airplane to its destination (without dropping it??), how would you react? We’d think, OH HELL NO, the motherfuckers are doing it again, and headlock the obvious Al Qaeda terrorist who was trying to start 9/11 Part II. Enjoy your “GDII” in Gitmo, lady. They won’t be selling apples there, either!
UPDATE: It happened after deadline so you can’t blame Peggy for not factoring it into the three seconds of prep she did for this column, but the Wal-Mart death stampede this morning is, for what it’s worth, a solid 2008 equivalent to the terrible 1930s stereotypes on which she bases economic well-being. Peggy is right when she says “the mall is still there.” But people aren’t at the mall, you see! They’re at Wal-Mart, where people shop on “Black Friday” when they’re poor. And they’re all there, all trying to buy the same limited number of cheap goods. It becomes a race, and they’re willing kill people as collateral damage. And yes, “Everyone’s still overweight,” Peggy, because the unhealthiest foods — usually corn-derived and subsidized by the government — are the cheapest and most readily available in this country, which is a Problem and something you missed in your cutesy aside about squirrels and bears storing up for the “time of great want,” we’re only getting fatter, meaning more innocents will be killed in fatter-footed bargain store stampedes, STFU, goodnight.