Peggy Noonan for WSJ: Once Upon a Time in America

September 30th, 2011

Wall Street Journal

September 30, 2011

By Peggy Noonan


At a symposium in Colorado at which thoughtful people from many professions spoke, and later in conversation with people who care about books in California, two things we all know to be true became more vivid to me.

The first is that nobody is optimistic about the world economy. No one sees the Western nations righting themselves any time soon, no one sees lower unemployment coming down the pike, or fewer foreclosures. No one was burly: “Everything will be fine, snap out of it!” Everyone admitted tough times lie ahead.

The second is that everyone hungers for leadership. Really, everyone. And really, it is a hunger. They want so much to be able to respect and feel trust in their political leaders. Everyone hungers for someone strong, honest and capable—as big as the moment. But the presidential contest, the default topic when Americans gather, tended to become somewhat secondary. Underlying everything was a widespread sense among Democrats and Republicans, lefties and righties, that President Obama isn’t big enough, and that we don’t have to argue about this anymore. There was also a broad sense that there is no particular reason to believe any one of the Republicans is big enough, either.

Actually, I saw a third thing. There is, I think, a kind of new patriotism among our professional classes. They talk about America now and their eyes fill up. With business people and doctors and scientists, there used to be a kind of detachment, an ironic distance they held between themselves and Washington, themselves and national problems. “The future of our country” was the kind of earnest topic they wouldn’t or couldn’t survey without a wry smile. But now I believe I see a deep yearning to help, to do the right thing, to be part of a rebuilding, and it is a yearning based in true and absolute anxiety that we may lose this wonderful thing we were born into, this America, this brilliant golden gift.

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