In yesterday’s column titled In Search of Dignity, David Brooks listed three stories to hit the media in the past several days that in his opinion featured public figures who exemplified another branch of indignity: Mark Sandford’s press conference, the death of Michael Jackson, and Sarah Palin’s press conference.
In each of these events, one sees people who simply have no social norms to guide them as they try to navigate the currents of their own passions.
Americans still admire dignity. But the word has become unmoored from any larger set of rules or ethical system.
The conservative Brooks concluded his column by pointing to Barack Obama as the nation’s exemplar of “reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity.” He adds: “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.”
It’s true that stylistically President Obama conducts himself well despite the occasional gaffe when meeting with important leaders from other nations. For example, in his recent visit to Russia, Obama offended his Russian hosts by brushing them off on his second night in Moscow by taking his family out to dinner at an expensive club at the Ritz Carlton.
However, Brooks failed to mention a bothersome detail about Obama’s supporters during the 2008 campaign and since. Although their leader preached a “new politics” and has managed for the most part to stay above the fray, most people who scrutinize online message boards will agree that Obama’s followers are among the most verbally abusive, sexist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive people to post comments on the Internet.
At the Huffington Post, Obama’s shock troops have even vilified handicapped people. If Obama presumes to be our nation’s role model for dignified behavior, perhaps he should begin with those closest to him.
At least it can be said about Brooks that he usually maintains a degree of decorum in his column. In contrast, the liberal media long ago completely joined forces with the above “undignified” Obama supporters in their attacks on first Hillary Clinton and then Sarah Palin.
Prior to 2008, I faithfully followed several liberal columnists in the mainstream media. Today, I can read without holding my nose only a couple of them; that would be Paul Krugman and Dr. Stanley Fish, both of the NY Times.
Fish was pilloried by Obama supporters during the Democratic Primary for defending Hillary Clinton against the rampant sexism. This time around, Fish is defending Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford. In his lead paragraph the other day, the professor wrote:
I did not vote for Sarah Palin in the November election, and had I been a resident of South Carolina, I wouldn’t have supported Mark Sanford. But I find their failings and, in the case of Sanford, sins more palatable than the behavior of the pundits who are having so much fun at their expense.
Fish advises Palin’s critics to actually look at the video and pay attention to the reasons she gives for resigning:
It is true that her statement was not constructed in a straightforward, logical manner, but the main theme was sounded often and plainly: This is not what I signed up for. I’m spending all my time and the state’s money responding to attack after attack and they aren’t going to let up because, “It doesn’t cost the people who make these silly accusations a dime.”
The accusations had been coming from all sides, from investigators of her ethics, from Alaska Democrats and fellow Republicans, from officials in the McCain campaign, from scathing magazine articles, from what she termed the mockery and humiliation directed at her son Trig, from late-night comedians taking potshots at her daughters.
Fish has this to say about Sanford:
The ineptness of his remarks on every level was staggering; politically he was busy digging his own grave; personally, in terms of his family life, he was digging another. He declared in one breath that he was trying to fall back in love with his wife, and in the next he told the world that this was a love story, “a forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”
The commentators thought they were covering the latest chapter in the male-politician-who-can’t-keep-his-pants-zipped saga. What they were really covering (although they just couldn’t see it) was the latest chapter in the “all for love” saga, with earlier chapters featuring Antony and Cleopatra, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. (O.K., so his stage is not as large as theirs, but it displays the same drama.) Sanford’s actions were without doubt foolish, reprehensible and incredibly maladroit, but they were also real.
So what’s the bottom line story? Simple. Sanford is in love. Palin is in pain. Sometimes what it seems to be is what it is.
It would be great if all pundits would follow Fish’s example and maintain their dignity – not to mention ethical standards of journalism - while covering the behavior of public figures.