We’ve been hard on Peggy Noonan the past year or so. But she’s gotten something so right today about the Virginia Tech tragedy that it deserves broad play. Take a look at the whole thing via the link if you like, but here’s the section that brings it home:
There seems to me a sort of broad national diminution of common sense in our country that we don’t notice in the day-to-day but that become obvious after a story like this. Common sense says a person like Cho Sheng-hui, who was obviously dangerous and unstable, should have been separated from the college population. Common sense says someone should have stepped in like an adult, like a person in authority, and taken him away. It is only common sense that if a person like Cho leaves a self-aggrandizing, self-celebrating, self-pitying video diary of himself to be played by the mass media, the mass media should not play it and not publicize it, not make it famous. Common sense says that won’t help.
And all those big cops, scores of them, hundreds, with the latest, heaviest, most sophisticated gear, all the weapons and helmets and safety vests and belts. It looked like the brute force of the state coming up against uncontrollable human will.
But it also looked muscle bound. And the schools themselves more and more look muscle bound, weighed down with laws and legal assumptions and strange prohibitions.
The school officials I saw, especially the head of the campus psychological services, seemed to me endearing losers. But endearing is too strong. I mean “not obviously and vividly offensive.” The school officials who gave all the highly competent, almost smooth and practiced news conferences seemed to me like white, bearded people who were educated in softness. Cho was “troubled”; he clearly had “issues”; it would have been good if someone had “reached out”; it’s too bad America doesn’t have better “support services.” They don’t use direct, clear words, because if they’re blunt, they’re implicated.
The literally white-bearded academic who was head of the campus counseling center was on Paula Zahn Wednesday night suggesting the utter incompetence of officials to stop a man who had stalked two women, set a fire in his room, written morbid and violent plays and poems, been expelled from one class, and been declared by a judge to be “mentally ill” was due to the lack of a government “safety net.” In a news conference, he decried inadequate “funding for mental health services in the United States.” Way to take responsibility. Way to show the kids how to dodge.
The anxiety of our politicians that there may be an issue that goes unexploited was almost–almost–comic. They mean to seem sensitive, and yet wind up only stroking their supporters. I believe Rep. Jim Moran was first out of the gate with the charge that what Cho did was President Bush’s fault. I believe Sen. Barack Obama was second, equating the literal killing of humans with verbal coarseness. Wednesday there was Sen. Barbara Boxer equating the violence of the shootings with the “global warming challenge” and “today’s Supreme Court decision” upholding a ban on partial-birth abortion.
One watches all of this and wonders: Where are the grown-ups?