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Peggy Noonan–my Athena

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 9:10 pm - April 29, 2005.
Filed under: Mythology and the real world

Peggy Noonan‘s latest column reminds me yet again why I call her my Athena. The Greek goddess of war, handicrafts, industry and skill, Athena sprung fully formed–and fully armed–from the head of her father Zeus, king of the gods, whose favorite she was. In some tellings, Athena was born only after Zeus swallowed his pregnant first wife, Metis, goddess of wisdom, thus making his favorite child an incarnation of wisdom.

Peggy Noonan also incarnates a certain wisdom. Like Athena, she is a hawk. A speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, she penned an excellent memoir of her White House days, What I saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan era. The book’s eighth chapter, “Who Was That Masked Man?” as well her her 2001 besteller, When Character was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan, capture the essence of the Gipper.

In her latest column, defending John Bolton, the president’s much (and wrongly) maligned choice for U.N. Ambassador, she notes that Bolton is not the only public figure alleged to have a bad temper. She doesn’t think however that such a bad temper should necessarily disqualify him from service:

Bad temper is a bad thing in a public servant, but it is not the worst thing. Worse is the person who judges all questions as either career-enhancing or career-retarding, who lets the right but tough choice slide if standing for it will make him controversial and therefore a target. Mr. Bolton apparently never does that. Worse is the person who doesn’t really care that the right thing be done, as long he gets his paycheck. That’s not Mr. Bolton either. Worse still is the cynic who is above caring about anything beyond his own concerns. And that isn’t Mr. Bolton either.

Emphasis added. It was that bolded (and italicized) line which reminded me of Peggy’s Athena-qualities.

In Greek mythology, Athena helps a number of heroes, all of them men, achieve their goals. She helped the Greeks defeat the Trojans. She gave Perseus her shield of polished bronze in which he could see the reflection of Gorgon Medusa and so slay her. (One direct look in that Gorgon’s face would turn any man to stone.) She helped Bellerophon tame the winged horse, Pegasus, and provided moral support to Heracles as he completed his twelve labors.

To me at least, Athena’s greatest role is in the Odysssey where she guides Telemachus in his search for Odysseus, his father, helps Odysseus find his way home and, in perhaps the most touching scene in all Greek literature, helps effect the reconciliation between father and son. On the way, she helps Telemachus abandon his childish attitudes and find his own strengths while she teaches Odysseus to tame his wiles.

In her columns and her books, like Athena, Peggy shows a particularly feminine wisdom which seems to inspire many men. She wrote eloquently about September 11 and how it affected our culture. Her books offer insight into the greatness of Ronald Reagan, her columns demonstrate a keen understanding of President Bush. She likens the former to FDR, the latter to Harry Truman. And while generally admiring the president, she has not been afraid to criticize him, faulting his second inaugural address for being too ambitious with a conclusion that was “over the top.”

She understands Hillary Clinton better than most conservatives and thinks Hillary might be “hard to beat” in 2008. And appreciates (here and here, for example) what blogs hath wrought. I love her little asides, especially the way she easily incorporates them into the flow of her prose. And how she blends her surroundings (as she writes) into her articles.

In short, she’s a great writer. And this writer, who has never had a mentor, wishes that she could, as Athena did for Telemachus, take the form of Mentor and help me reach my full potential.

When I was in law school and drove frequently back and forth between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C,. I frequently alternated between listening to her reading her memoir of the Reagan years and Derek Jacobi’s reading of The Illiad.” No wonder I see her as Athena. Somehow, the juxtaposition of hearing those two great voices read those two powerful works helped me write what would become the best speech of my life and inspired me to begin my novel.

When I read last night the words I bolded above, I was reminded — yet again — of a bad choice I had made just under ten years ago, a few months after I completed that novel. I chose not to try to publish a column I had written, faulting Bob Dole, then the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, for bouncing a check from the Log Cabin Republicans.

A friend warned me that since I identified myself in the piece as both gay and Republican, its publication would make difficult for me to find a job for a conservative public policy outfit in Washinton (the kind of job I was then seeking). I chose not to publish. Peggy’s words made it clear to me that I had made a bad choice. I should have spoken my mind, even if it made it difficult for me to find work in our nation’s capital.

Just five days ago, I couldn’t sleep when I realized that had I made a different choice ten years ago, I might have achieved earlier in life the success I am only now beginning to realize with this blog. (So, once again, I thank GP for inviting me on board–I still miss his presence.) On Monday, I searched my old disks for the column. Had I found it, I would have published it here.

How weird it seemed that Peggy would write those words (bolded above) just a few days after I searched for my never-published column. And weird comes from the Old English word, wyrd, fate.

As Telemachus had Athena, I wish I had Peggy to guide me. For many — and not just conservatives — she has become a leading voice for wisdom on the pages of books, newspapers and magazines as well as in cyberspace. She dares to speak her mind, even challenging conservatives, Republican presidents and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

Peggy serves as an inspiration for many of us in the blogosophere. Her latest column reminds us to do as she has done and do what’s right even (perhaps especially) when doing the right thing is controversial.

It is many years since I failed to publish that column. As this blog clearly demonstrates, I have long since recognized the importance of speaking my mind, even when my views go against the grain of “mainstream” gay thought. While I have learned this lesson, I know I still need an Athena to help me realize my full potenital as a writer. I can only hope that Peggy has a moment to spare the next time she’s in LA.

-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest):


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