The subject of Peggy Noonan's hand-wringing today is the increase in America's political polarization. Why are we more divided now? Noonan has a theory -- and it's a crock:
My concern the past few decades has been that we've lost or are losing some of that give, that divisions are sharper and deeper now in part because many of the issues that separate us are so piercing and personal. Vietnam and Watergate were outer issues. Many questions now speak of our essence as human beings. For instance: In the area of what are called the social issues, there are those (I am one) who passionately believe there must be some limits on what is legal, that horrors such as those that occurred in the office of Kermit Gosnell remind us that at the very least babies viable or arguably viable outside the womb must be protected. They can't just be eliminated; if that is allowed we have entered a new stage of barbarism, and the special power of barbarism is that once unleashed it brings more barbarism. A worldview away—a universe away—are those who earnestly insist that any limit on a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy constitutes an illegitimate restriction on the essential rights of all women—that abortion is a personal concern, not a societal one.
So, to boil all this verbiage down: We're more divided now than we were forty years ago because the burning issues of the day are visceral -- abortion, for instance -- whereas, four decades ago, we were merely arguing over the likes of Vietnam and Watergate, which were "outer issues."
For the moment, let's ignore the fact that we were also arguing over abortion forty years ago. And let's ignore the usual Peggy Noonan solipsism (Everyone in America is obsessed with the same issue I am!)
Think about what Noonan is saying -- yes, she's right that Watergate didn't affect most Americans personally on a gut level. But Vietnam? Seriously? Abortion involves blood and guts -- but war doesn't?
We lost 50,000 troops in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died. Limbs were lost, faces were disfigured, emotional compasses were permanently shattered. War is hell, Peggy. It's an "outer issue"? Yes, it was to you and most of your Georgetown friends, because few of them had (literally) any skin in the game.
Then again, I don't believe abortion is anything more to Noonan than an abstraction. She wants us to believe that she weeps for the "babies," but what's important to her is the belief that God and the conservative movement will put a gold star on her forehead because of her piety about the "babies." Yes, I believe her feelings on this subject run deep -- but what they touch is a deep, profound wish to be regarded as morally superior. Her God and her movement hand out gold stars to people who despise abortion, but they don't hand out gold stars to people who despise war. So she doesn't care about war.
(Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.)