The Best Advice
The parties jockey for advantage in their new position.
Democrats struggle to create a vision that honors their base while embracing the center. Republicans discern where to reach out across the aisle and where to ring the wagons.
The power-brokers of both parties would benefit from Peggy Noonan's advice.
She offers vital counsel in her latest column. While the entire offering deserves a look, here's the heart of it worth heeding:
We have divided government. Good, and for many reasons. One: It confuses our enemies. "Who do we hate now?" they ask in their caves, "the evil woman from San Francisco or the old infidel from Texas? Which do we hate more? And if we hate them both does that...unite them?"Keep us safe, all of you. Prepare our civilization for the next hit, whenever it comes. Ensure that we survive together.
We are in a 30-year war. It is no good for it to be led by, identified with, one party. It is no good for half the nation to feel estranged from its government's decisions. It's no good for us to be broken up more than a nation normally would be. And straight down the middle is a bad break, the kind that snaps.
We all have things we would say to the new Congress if we could. We are a country that makes as many speeches in the shower as it sings songs. I would say this: Focus on the age you live in. Know what it is. Know what's coming. The old way is over; the old days are over; the old facts and habits of mind do not pertain, or no longer fully pertain.
This is the age we live in: One day in the future either New York or Washington or both will be hit again, hard. It will be more deadly than 9/11. And on that day, those who experience it, who see the flash or hear the alarms, will try to help each other. They'll be good to each other. An elderly conservative congresswoman will be unable to make it down those big old Capitol steps, and a young liberal congressman will come by and pick her up in his arms and carry her. (I witnessed a moment somewhat like this during a Capitol alarm two years ago, when we were told to run for our lives.) I would say: Keep that picture in mind. Cut to the chase, be good to each other now.
Make believe it's already happened. That's the only attitude that will help us get through it when it does. I do not mean think like Rodney King. We can't all get along, not on this earth. But we can know what time it is. We can be serious, and humane. We can realize that we're all in this together and owe each other an assumption of good faith.
There are rogue states and rogue actors, there are forces and nations aligned against us, and they have nukes and other weapons of mass destruction, and some of them are mad. Know this. Walk to work each day knowing it, not in a pointlessly fearful way but in a spirit of "What can I do to make it better?"
What can you do in two years? The common wisdom says not much. But here's a governing attitude: First things first.
Do all you can to keep America as safe as possible as long as possible. Make sure she's able to take a bad blow, a bad series of them. Much flows from this first thing, many subsets. Here is only one: Strengthen and modernize our electrical grid. When the bad thing comes we will need to be able to make contact with each other to survive together. Congress has ignored this for years.
Make America in the world as safe as possible by tending to and building our friendships in the world, by causing no unnecessary friction, by adding whatever possible and necessary emollients. In your approach to foreign affairs, rewrite Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly, walk softly, and carry a big stick.
Much flows from this, including Iraq. This involves a huge and so far unanswered question: How to leave and not make it all infinitely worse. America will never accept a long war whose successful end even its most passionate proponents cannot convincingly envision or articulate. And America will never allow a repeat of the pictures of 1975, with desperate people who'd thrown their lot with us clinging to the skids of helicopters fleeing the U.S. Embassy. We will never get over Vietnam. And it's to our credit that we won't.
Those to me are the two big things. Much follows them, and flows from them. But to make some progress on these two things in the next two years would be breathtaking.
Partisan bickering won't accomplish that. Service to the common good will.
I hope, for our country's sake, that the leadership of Congress--from both sides of the aisle--takes Ms. Noonan at her word.