I often disagree with Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks but I think he hit a home run with today's column. The subject was the personal dignity and reticence shown by most of this country's early leaders and politicians, epitomized by George Washington.
The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.
Brooks laments that that this code no longer exists and that we now only see the qualities of dignity and personal restraint among those who exhibit a natural dignity, apparently a rare trait. As examples Brooks mentions Joe DiMaggio, Tom Landry, Lauren Bacall, Tom Hanks, Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr.
The three big news stories of the last few weeks feature people totally lacking in the qualities of dignity, reticence and restraint -- Mark Sanford and Michael Jackson and someone aspiring to high office "unfamiliar with the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority and trust" -- Sarah Palin.
But Brooks ends the column on a positive note.
But it’s not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President 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.
That an avowed Conservative should praise Obama's character and leadership should not surprise anyone and will only come as a shock to those who have fallen for the big lie promulgated by so many right-wing hacks that Obama is some sort of left-wing radical. The truth is that he is the opposite of an extremist or radical, exemplifying true Conservative values that people all along the political spectrum can and should admire. I keep waiting, so far in vain, for true Conservatives to rise of and reclaim their political philosophy from the bunch of radicals who have hijacked it. Perhaps this column is the opening salvo in that war.