Self Mastery

I’ve been struggling with what to say about Sarah Palin’s resignation and the passion of Mark Sanford.  So much has already been said.  Ross Douthat suggests that what did Palin in was elitist classism.  Stanley Fish defends both Palin and Sanford, saying that we should simply take them at their word and that in the end we’re all flawed human beings who deserve some sympathy.  But, perhaps the most eloquent appraisal of these two Governors was David Brooks’ column “In Search of Dignity.”  

Brooks harkens back to George Washington and his 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”  He laments that Palin and Sanford “simply have no social norms to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.”  He goes on to say that our culture is “hostile to aristocratic manners” and that shameless self promotion is de rigueur.  So, to whom do we look for an example of civility and self mastery?  Brooks points us to Obama:

Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity. The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact. He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.


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