In her column today, Peggy Noonan once again shows the stuff that has made her my Athena. In a particularly wise piece, Peggy not only faults big media for its coverage of Katrina, but she also expresses concern about something which Katrina revealed “a change in the relation of the individual and those who would govern him.”
While Peggy finds American nature “in the story of Jeremiah Johnson,” the mountain man who “didn’t like authority [and] wanted to be left alone,” today it seems we “hunger for someone to take responsibility.” Emblematic of this shift in attitude is a story out of Galveston the day before Rita hit land. Peggy saw two cops arrest a “fat Texas guy” for swimming in the crashing waves. While acknowledging that this guy was probably crazy, Peggy laments that “in the America where I grew up, you were allowed to be crazy.”
Instead of government just maintaining the peace in times of disaster, it is taking more and more authority onto itself, often with little dissent from the people. Peggy fears that if we “lose the right to be crazy, we’ll lose the right to be sane.” Thus, we need to make clear that, even in disasters, government’s role should be limited:
It is the government’s job to warn and inform. That’s what we have the National Weather Service for. It is not government’s job to command and control and make microdecisions about the lives of people who want to do it their own way.
I have only begun to explore the ideas in this wise piece. Peggy also does a great job of evaluating “the media’s part in this.” While she finds that “[r]eporters on the ground in New Orleans deserve great credit,” she also noted that “media have trouble distinguishing between the helpful reporting of facts and the whipping up of fear.” Since I can’t do justice to this wise piece in my poor post, just read the whole thing!
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: Just got an e-mail update from Barnes & Noble that Peggy’s next book, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, will be released on George Eliot’s birthday. I delight in that serendipity. Not only is Peggy like Athena, but she also has much in common with Eliot (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans).