Monday, November 21, 2011

Gail Collins of the New York Times Joins Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal as Favorite Columnists

Eloquent Arguments on Different Sides

Regular readers of this Forum will know that The Dismal Political Economist has long admired Peggy Noonan who writes a Saturday column for the Wall Street Journal.  This is not because Ms. Noonan agrees with him, more often than not she does not and every so often she regresses to the mean and nasty tone of the editorial pages of the WSJ.  But most of the time Ms. Noonan writes in a compact and concise style that correctly captures thoughts and ideas in a way few others do.

Now competing with Ms. Noonan is Gail Collins, a former editor of the NYTimes and now a regular columnist.  Ms. Collins has captured the light and airy style that somehow brings substance along with it.  Between the two of them one can always find a well written argument, which is a delight to read even when the argument is false.

Ms. Noonan writes about how Steve Jobs lamented that great companies decline because sales people take over management, and service and quality and product innovation take second place.  She then applies this to politics and government, describing Mr. Obama as a better salesman than governor.

One of the most penetrating criticisms of Mr. Obama came again from Jobs, who supported him but was frustrated by him. He met with the president last year and urged him to move forward on visas for foreign students who earned an engineering degree in the U.S. Mr. Obama blandly replied that this was covered in his comprehensive immigration bill, which Republicans were holding up. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson: "The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done."

At this point most Conservatives would launch into praise for Republican candidates, but Ms. Noonan correctly notes their deficiencies.  She uses Herman Cain as an example (okay, an easy task) and after noting that Mr. Cain keeps saying he would defer to generals on the ground she has this terrific insight.

As for the commanders on the ground, Mr. Cain clearly doesn't know something crucially important about modern American generals: that they tend to be the last to want to go to war and the last to want to leave. They're the last to want to go to war because they know what war is—chaos, destruction, always "a close-run thing." And they know the politicians who direct them to go to war often don't know this, or know it fully. But once action has been taken—once they've fought, seen their men die, planned, executed, taken and held territory—generals tend to counsel against leaving. Because they've worked with the good guys and seen the bad guys, and know what they'll do on our departure.

And she observes this

A candidate for president ought to be at least aware of this dynamic, and many other dynamics, too. To know little and to be proud of knowing little is disrespectful of the democratic process, and of the moment we're in.

Ms. Collins is equally insightful, but does it in such a pleasant and clever manner that she too is a joy to read.  Here are just some of her observations from recent columns.

Gingrich wants everyone to understand that he does not lobby. Really, whatever the exact legal definition of lobbying is, that is something he did not do. The Gingrich Group got what turns out to be about $1.6 million to not-lobby for Freddie Mac, one of a long, long list of clients.  . . .

Romney also gets quite a bit of cash for making speeches. He once made $68,000 for one appearance before the International Franchise Association in Las Vegas.

People, if you were raking in more than $9.6 million a year, would you waste your time talking to the International Franchise Association? Perhaps you would if international franchises were especially close to your heart. But, in that case, why charge them $68,000?  . . .

All I can tell you is this. Rick Perry will never be paid by a tank to think. . .

Only 9 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress has been doing its job, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. And you do sort of wonder about that 9 percent. Do you think they misheard and thought they were being asked, “Do you approve of Christmas?” . . .

Pity the Republican voters. They aren’t asking for much. They just want a candidate who’s really conservative but not totally crazy. Who has verbs in his sentences. Who didn’t drive to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Yet they’re still searching with such desperation that you expect to wake up some morning and see a headline like: “Poll Says Most Likely Voters in South Carolina Favor the Geico Gecko.”. . .

Romney dismissed a question about his perpetual position-changing by pointing out that he had been married for 42 years and had been a Mormon his entire life. Is this what we’re going to be getting for the rest of the campaign? An opponent points out that he’s changed his stance on something, and Romney will whip out a sweater that he’s been wearing since sophomore year in college? . . .

Well, you get the picture.  And get the columns.  And once a week read Ms. Noonan and Ms. Collins on the same day.  They won’t always be good, but if Ms. Noonan can keep here independence and Ms. Collins her verbal illustrations it will be a pleasant day no matter what else happens.

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