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A New Hope and Change

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 6:30 p.m. January 14, 2010
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Florida
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National political commentator Peggy Noonan was a special adviser to President Ronald Regan for two years, but she says the teaching aspect of the relationship was actually reversed.

“I learned so much from him,” Noonan says. “Reagan always thought the meaning of things was just bigger than him and so even though he was the center of attention when he stood to speak, he actually didn't think it was all about him.”

That stands in contrast to some presidents that followed him in office.

Noonan could have also learned her timing skills from Reagan. In politics, timing is the key to just about everything, from when to deliver a funny line in a speech to when to wage a big fight.

Indeed, she learned that trick so well that Noonan, a critic of both President Obama's health care bill and the methods by which the Democratic Party have gone to achieve it, is scheduled to speak in Sarasota later this month — a day before Obama was scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address. (That speech has since been moved to a date later in February, supposedly so the Administration can have a health care bill to boast about.)

“What a blunder this thing has been, win or lose, what a miscalculation on the part of the president,” Noonan wrote of the health care bill in a column published in the Wall Street Journal Jan. 9. “The administration misjudged the mood and the moment. Mr. Obama ran, won, was sworn in and began his work under the spirit of 2008 — expansive, part dreamy and part hubristic. But as soon as he was inaugurated, the president ran into the spirit of 2009 — more dug in, more anxious, more bottom-line — and didn't notice.

“At the exact moment the public was announcing it worried about jobs first and debt and deficits second, the administration decided to devote its first year to health care, which no one was talking about.”

Noonan, who is scheduled to speak at the Town Hall Lecture Series in Sarasota on Jan. 25, spoke with the Review earlier this month on topics from Obama and Sarah Palin to how to chief executives could communicate better with employees. Here's an edited transcript of the conversation:

Q. Where is the health care bill headed? What kind of bill will we have?
A. I think Obama is going to have something by the State of the Union. That's obviously what he's pushing hard for right now. What he will have, frankly, is still a mystery. The way I almost imagine it is this bill is something that is cooking like a stew on Harry Reid's desk. It's still a little mysterious.

But I continue to believe, as I have from the beginning, that the Democrats will have something, but it will not be worth the price. The price that I think they paid politically for bullying this thing through and pushing so hard at the wrong time will not be worth it. [The Democrats] are out of sync with the American people and I think all of the polls back that up.”

Q. What is President Obama doing right or wrong in regards to national security issues?
A. In terms of foreign policy, I think he has tried to make progress by being friendly, accommodating, open-minded and open toward the world. I think some alliances got frayed during the Bush era and I think some opposition to the United States built.

But I think there is a large and legitimate concern that the president up until this point, up until the Christmas Day/Detroit bomber incident, has not had national security issues in the obvious forefront of his mind. And I think his early reaction to the bomber was probably not so wonderful, although he came back in a few days and he's correct when he says we dodged a bullet on this one.

Q. What is the political future of Sarah Palin?
A. I think she's at the point now where she is trying to figure out what she wants. She has written a book that was very successful in the marketplace and I think the next step is for her to decide: what does she want to be professionally, what does she want to stand for and where exactly does she want to stand? (After this interview, Fox News announced that Palin would be a regular political commentator on the news network.)

Q. Have you followed the U.S. Senate Republican primary race in Florida between Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, a former state representative?
A. It is a really interesting one. At the very least it will tell us how Republicans on the ground are feeling. I am very interested in George Will's recent prediction that Mr. Rubio would win. It will be interesting because Crist is seen largely as the establishment candidate and Rubio is increasingly seen as the conservative candidate.

Q. Are primary elections like Crist vs. Rubio, an establishment candidate tagged a RINO (Republican in Name Only) going up against someone perceived as a true conservative, a future political trend?
A. I think it depends on the state. As long as I have been a conservative the tension between conservatives and more centrist Republicans has been a vigorous battle. It has gone on most of my lifetime and there are times it's quiet and there are times that it really heats up.

What's interesting about Florida is that so often so many of us see it as a microcosm of the nation. And it's always important to see where it goes every four years.

Q. Where do you see the 2010 mid-term elections going?
A. It's not will the Republicans make a comeback; of course they will. We don't know how big a comeback, but they are going to win back seats in the House and Senate.

The real questions are: Will the Republican Party have earned it with a real alternative? Will it have strong candidates who stand for real and serious things? Will it be a serious and ardent party and will it be serious and sincere about policy? Will it be in that sense Reaganesque? Will it be made up of candidates who are in politics to do big and serious things, candidates who aren't there for ego gratification and aren't there to be a part of a red team or a blue team?

Executive Tips
Peggy Noonan, a national political commentator and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, has written nine books, including one about Hillary Clinton, one about John Paul II and a few about President Ronald Reagan.

But for business executives in search of ways to improve their communication with employees, Noonan's book titled “Simply Speaking: How to Communicate Your Ideas with Style, Substance and Clarity” stands out. The book, published in 1998, partially talks about the importance of being able to reach an audience in difficult times.

A lot of what Noonan knows about how to connect with an audience came for the Great Communicator himself, President Reagan. Noonan was a special adviser for Reagan from 1984 to 1986.

Here are some tips from Noonan about how to speak effectively to employees:

• Be blunt: “I'd be very candid about the difficulty in the marketplace and be very candid about the purpose and mission of the company. I would be candid about what needs to be done to make the business profitable and first rate.”

• Be succinct: “The cleanness of a stated position and an argument for going in a certain direction are at the heart of a speech,” says Noonan. “The very first thing you have to know is that a speech doesn't exist to move people or warm the cockles of their heart. A speech shouldn't be given in order to get an emotional response.”

• Be organized: Noonan recalls that Winston Churchill, for all his accolades as a communicator, once stood up before the British House of Commons, cleared his throat and was literally speechless, as he forgot what he was going to say. So Noonan says a text while giving a speech is essential. “When I give a speech I always have a written document before me,” says Noonan. “I always keep going with that document. If I'm going to ad lib, I will depart the text, but it's good to have a text there.”

• Be funny: A speech should open with some relevant pieces of humor. It puts the captive audience at ease. Says Noonan: “One of the nicest, kindest and sweetest things you could do for yourself as a speaker and your audience is to start out with good humor and some levity.”

Talk of the Town
Peggy Noonan's scheduled lecture in Sarasota Jan. 25 is part of the annual Town Hall Lecture Series. The series is the primary fundraiser for the Ringling College Library Association, which supports the Verman Kimbrough Memorial Library at the Ringling College of Art and Design.

Recent past speakers at the series include Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Mikhail Gorbachev. Speakers scheduled for later this year include former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

For more information on the lecture series or to buy tickets, call (941) 925-1343 or go to

Contact Mark Gordon at {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}.


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