Perspective through the eyes of leaders past


A famous columnist, best-selling author and speech writer for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, offered perspective regarding what the past five presidents of the United States could learn from each other at Tuesday’s campus Devotional.

Peggy Noonan spoke to students and faculty about how leaders reveal who they are as people. Her experiences helped give her audience a unique perspective. Specifically Noonan addressed how each of the past five presidents of the United States failed to learn from their predecessors in the presidency.

Peggy Noonan addressed BYU students and faculty about leadership through the eyes of the past five presidents of the United States. Photo by Samantha Williams
Peggy Noonan addressed BYU students and faculty about leadership through the eyes of the past five presidents of the United States. (Photo by Samantha Williams)

Noonan suggested that when narrowed down, there are really two personality types: those who are filled up with energy by interaction with others and those who fill others up with energy through interaction.

As someone who worked closely with Reagan as her boss, Noonan said he was the latter of those personality types. Noonan described Reagan outwardly as capable, good at speaking and involved in deep and immediate engagement with the issues people cared about. However, Noonan suggested he was different in the public eye than in a private setting.

“He was not really a political personality,” Noonan said. “He was the happiest writing letters at his desk … and riding horses at his ranch in Santa Barbara. I would describe him as a very friendly introvert.”

Reagan’s personality differences in public and private never made Noonan doubt the type of leader President Reagan was.

“As a leader, you know where he was and why he was there,” Noonan said.

Noonan then spoke of her experience and perspective on George H.W. Bush. She described the first President Bush as a family-oriented diplomat.

“He was genuinely and enormously engaged in personal matters and relationships,” Noonan said. “His family really was everything to him.”

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down in Germany, during a time of political upheaval and unrest in the country, Noonan said his public engagement was less secure than the prior President Reagan. When Bush was finally asked why he had not spoken about the issue he responded with others in mind.

“Because I don’t want to rub it in,” Bush said.

Noonan said Bush knew that humiliated people are dangerous people. According to Noonan, two other powerful qualities that Bush, as a leader, revealed about himself as a person were his merriness and his knowing skepticism.

“His skepticism kept him laughing at the human condition and at himself,” Noonan said. “There is power in merriness. You have perspective. You get it.”

President Bill Clinton made a more dramatic physical impression than his words did, according to Noonan. She also described him as strong, disciplined and a good actor — which she says is a compliment coming from her.

“Political figures should always be an actor, but not be a phony,” Noonan said. “(Clinton) was deeply articulate and verbally able.”

Noonan said prior to Clinton, no other president winked, waved and pointed at their audiences.

“That looks good on the cover of TIME Magazine,” Noonan said. “Leaders point.”

Noonan described a speech that President Clinton gave around the time of his impeachment trials. His address marked that people should forgive one another of their transgressions. As attendees left they discussed how sly Clinton’s remarks were.

“When you are president, it is not good to leave people saying, ‘Man, that was sly,'” Noonan said. “Sly is not your job. Clinton needs Bush’s integrity.”

George W. Bush was not known for his smooth, compelling speech in public. According to Noonan, he was the opposite of Clinton’s presidency; however, in the Oval Office, making decisions, Bush had confidence that Clinton never had.

“President Bush went on to create a consequential presidency,” Noonan said.

Despite Clinton’s mishap, Clinton still managed to have a presidency of eight years of prosperity and relative peace. Noonan suggested less drama is needed from the presidency.

Noonan addressed the current president of the United States saying President Barack Obama is very, very confident. She suggested that Bush (second) had a lot to teach Obama, though Bush might agree. Noonan said Bush could have advised Obama about making all decisions about war, peace and instating policies by first getting the opposite political party to agree with you.

“Obama could have learned compromise and collegiality with George W. Bush,” Noonan said.

The atmosphere at the forum was lively and dynamic as Noonan spoke with great animation. Noonan addressed BYU campus with a “spirit of mutual fellowship.”

With a cheering arm raised in the air, Noonan raised her voice and said, “Go Cougars! Beat those desperate miscreants of Notre Dame.”

Students applauded in appreciation of Noonan’s Cougar spirit. Noonan also shared how honored she felt to be at BYU, “a beautiful and big American university,” where she respects so many alumni who have graduated from this campus including Mitt Romney, John Huntsman and Philo T. Farnsworth.

Noonan left the Marriott Center receiving a round of applause and giving a thumbs up.

“Onward to you,” Noonan said.


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