Friday, October 10, 2008

Writing gibberish and calling it commentary

I am hard pressed to think of any newspaper op-ed columnists I actually like. On those rare occasions I have a hard copy of the paper in my hands, I tend to skip over the op-ed columns without even thinking, just like I ignore box scores and certain cartoons on the comics page (I'm looking at you, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith... and by that I mean I'm not looking at you). If I see a guest columnist, I might read what he has to say, if it's someone who might have some expertise, or a really entertaining writer amusing himself by slumming on the op-ed page. But regular columnists tend to range from poor to awful, simply by virtue of their being regular editorial columnists. They get into a habit of inflating every half-baked thought they have into a glib 800-word exercise, and you end up feeling dumber for reading it, or at least angry that you wasted your time.

Having said all that: Oh my sweet baby tigers, you must read Peggy Noonan's latest hilarious Wall Street Journal column. (My deepest thanks to Wonkette for bringing it to my attention.) Noonan's column is called "Declarations," but it's really more like "Disjointed Musings From On High." I think she may have been coherent at one time, but now she writes like Larry King with a better vocabulary. And no one spins his or her wheels quite as showily as Peggy. She can start out with absolutely nothing to say and then spend a whole column trying to convince you that her failure to complete a thought is the result of her being unusually thoughtful. And she jokes just like McCain -- that is to say, badly, in a way that makes you cringe with embarrassment and wonder just how out of touch a person can get. Here is an actual excerpt -- and remember, she got paid to write this, and then it was published in a national newspaper where everyone could see it:
One had the sense this week that our entire political class is playing Frisbee on the edge of a precipice, that no one is being serious enough, honest enough, that it's all too revved, too intense, and yet too shallow. I have grown impatient with the strategists from the campaigns, the little blond monsters who go on cable TV to give us their bouncy, aggressive, tendentious talking points. They are like the men on the plane, the gargoyles with BlackBerrys who think the race is about them and their personal win/loss ratio, who think history is their plaything, who stay up with the press in the bar sipping Perrier and calling it seltzer, and who advise their candidates, in essence, to talk down to the voters, to the American people.
Oh, but Peggy Noonan will never talk down to you, American people. Around in circles, maybe, but never down.

Update: I have discovered a possible exception to the rule -- Gail Collins. More research is needed, but this week's column is evidence in her favor.


GregM said...

Hi Mollie. Just came across your blog via your insightful review of "Title of Show" and your bizarre but enlightening exchange with John Colapinto.
No op-ed columnists you like? What about Frank Rich or Paul Krugman? It's to the Times' eternal detriment that they didn't hire Barbara Ehrenreich full time...oh well.
But beyond those, yeah, there aren't many.

Mollie said...

Hi Greg! I can't say I've really read Paul Krugman, although now that he's been Nobel'd I suppose I ought to. Frank Rich is always a good read, because he's better than most at spinning a tiny observation into a grandiose Conmmentary On Our Culture -- but sometimes he's really working with nothing. I usually wish he was writing about the arts instead of speculating about world affairs. Just because you *can* write 1400 words about nothing concrete doesn't mean you *should*!