I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with Peggy Noonan, a prolific and widely admired columnist for the Wall Street Journal, former speechwriter under President Ronald Reagan, and the best-selling author of eight books on American politics, history, and culture. She has been called “the voice of our times” by USA Today and is an accomplished and esteemed fixture in American political journalism.
Considering my inclination toward anything politics, getting to know Ms. Noonan in an intimate and discussion-oriented environment with other Scripps students was an extraordinary experience. The cross-ideological dynamic gave me insights into what makes Ms. Noonan such a successful communicator. She is articulate, passionate, and knowledgeable, but never condescending.
I also had the honor of introducing Ms. Noonan that evening to the greater Claremont community in Garrison Theater. Here she shared her insights and experiences through different political eras dating back to her time in the Reagan administration.
She also shared some hilarious stories that are worth repeating over and over, like this one:
After he lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, Al Gore went to England to meet with the Queen. While there, he asked her how she would describe her form of governing. The Queen responded that she surrounds herself with smart people and lets them then do their jobs. Gore then asked how she knew if they were smart, which prompted the queen to call in then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and ask him, “If your parents had a child who was not your brother or sister who would it be?” to which he responded, “Me.” After returning to Washington, Gore called President George W. Bush and asked him the same question the Queen had asked Tony Blair. President Bush was perplexed and asked if he could get back to Gore. Bush and his staff discussed the question, but they could not figure it out. Eventually, he turned to then-Secretary of State Collin Powell for help, who responded, “It’s me, of course.” Bush then called Gore back and said the answer to his question is Collin Powell, to which Gore responded, “No, it’s not him. It’s Tony Blair.”
Ms. Noonan said that this story was too good to check the validity of, and I am going to go with that, too.
The most popular topic of the night was the 2016 presidential election. Ms. Noonan was not bashful in her suspicion that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may not travel and appeal to voters all around the country particularly well.
We also talked briefly about that classic Republican question of how the GOP could reach out to different demographics better. She responded that the party needs to focus more on middle- and working-class. Once the base of the party is there, other groups will naturally be attracted. She also said that it would help if prominent party leaders would stop making unfortunate gaffes that have become all-too-common in the Republican Party of late, such as saying that 47 percent of Americans would never vote for a Republican. She also noted that Tea Party politicians should be weary of reporters trying to bait them into saying stupid or controversial things.
The Elizabeth Hubert Malott speaker series envisioned bringing speakers to campus who would inspire informed debate on a range of public policy issues and expose Scripps students to the conservative point of view seldom heard within academia.
As one of the few Scripps students who identifies as conservative, my day with Peggy was a refreshing change of pace to the conversations that usually dominate the campus dialogue.
David Brooks, who was the series’ speaker in 2011, called Scripps students “fiendishly bright” after his time on campus. Ms. Noonan fittingly concurred, noting that she would call Scripps students “devlishly brilliant.” But one would not get to see this side of Scripps students without an opposing point of view to bring out the best in us.