You do not want to miss the weekly festival of swooning self-regard and misty incoherence that will be Peggy Noonan's "Study Group" for undergrads this year, during her fellowship at the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics. Let's read the syllabus.
For some ungodly reason, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government saw fit to make Noonan a fellow this year. As part of the application process, candidates are asked to write up a syllabus of the course they will enlighten impressionable young undergrads with. Noonan wrote hers like she writes her column: She poured a glass of white wine, put on some Commodores, curled up in a big comfy chair with a Snuggie, and turned on the crazy.
Herewith, annotated selections from the syllabus for "CREATIVITY IN JOURNALISM, IN POLITICS AND IN LIFE: A Writer's Perspective, a study group led by IOP fellow Peggy Noonan, Tuesdays 4:00-5:30 p.m., Faculty Dining Room."
A writer tries to make clarity out of confusion, to capture reality, to see what is. A good writer is trying to be alive. A columnist says, "I think this is true, I want to tell you about it, please listen to me, let's think about it together."
Oh, lord. I don't think we're thinking what you're thinking, Peggy.
It is often said that writing is a solitary act, and that is true –- it's you and your brain, your soul and your response to something that's happening either in the world or in your head. And you bring to it, to this subject, what knowledge you have of life, and of man, and of history. But at the same time it is not a solitary act if you are lucky enough to have an audience for your work.
OK, follow closely kids, cause this gets complicated and I'm not going over it again: Writing=You+your brain+your soul+the larger of either your response to the voices in your head OR the voices on the teevee DIVIDED BY everything you know TIMES the square root of your audience. WRITE THAT DOWN.
Ronald Reagan was interesting as a political figure in part because when he spoke there was a quality of mutual listening going on, a listening so intense it was like a form of communication. He would make his case and illustrate his points and you'd sit in the audience and think, "Yes, that's true, I agree" or, "Hmmm, I'm not sure."
Or you could think, Gosh, I'm a little chilly. Maybe I should switch to bourbon. Is it four yet? Oh well. This white wine's a little cold, though. Why did I choose the white wine? Oh, I wanted to polish off that bottle, that's right. OK, I'll just finish it off and then warm myself back up with the Knob Creek. I wonder what they would taste like if I mixed them together? My kingdom for an electric Snuggie! You know what's wrong with our culture? No one stands anymore—Ronald Reagan could stand, and he could walk, the way our fathers stood and walked when there were wars and everyone wore hats and carried handkerchiefs. A handkerchief is like a smile—a wry little smile that says, "Everything's going to be OK, miss. You just don't worry, we'll take care of everything." Are there handkerchiefs on the internet? Maybe there are, but I don't think so. I think we need a handkerchief, to lift us up and carry us back to when things like people and dogs and trees really mattered. Why are we always so angry? God I'd love 15 minutes in the back of a car with Lionel Richie. Where was I? You could think that, too.
So: onward, to a writer's life.
Introduction: An Overview:
Who I am. Where I am from. What I have done. My career. Being a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan; being young at CBS News when it too was young, and the Tiffany Network, and carried itself like the greatest army in the world, with spirit and élan and pride, and not a small amount of conceit.
No, not a small amount at all.
"What It Is to Work In a White House."
You've seen the television show The West Wing, on which I was for a short time a consultant. You've read What I Saw at the Revolution, or should have, God knows. Is there more to say? Yes. Herein I say it. Here's where I start: What a privelage, what a great exhausting drama, to do what you are doing, which is: Living History.
What an idiot, you are, to do what you have done, which is: Misspell "privilege."
"What It Is to be a Columnist."
"My column? I call it my pillar!" William Safire is said to have said. What columnists are trying to do. Why they do it. How they do it. Why it matters. Our guest will be, one hopes, a great columnist.
"What It Is to Write A book?"
To write a book is to swing for the fences. Books last. The great CBS News anchor Charles Kuralt once said in my presence, gesturing toward the television, "That doesn't last, but this" – he gestured toward a book case – "does." (Actually if Google has its way maybe this will change; maybe they'll delete us.) But until they do, books are forever. I've written eight. All nonfiction. Let's talk about them, about the writing of them, and let us have as a guest a great book writer.
"Where Is America now, politically?"
And where exactly should it be? I have some thoughts.
No you don't, Peggy. You do not have any thoughts.
Is it good that what was essentially a media monopoly has been broken? Yes. And it's bad, too.
Knob Creek time!
"Wrap Up Session."
What did we learn? What can we conclude about the writer's life? What interests you about politics? What is good about modern media, and what is bad? Let us talk about journalism, politics, and life.