In the past couple of days The New York Times' Op-Ed section has featured two interestingly opposing views of the widely lambasted displays of Governors Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin. Stanley Fish, whose contrarian instincts were clearly at work here, argued that the emotional rawness exhibited by both figures should be honored as expressions of authenticity, and as refusals to play along with the artifice usually expected under the political microscope. In his view, the punditocracy viewed the two episodes with incomprehension precisely because they were not politically calculated. Omnia vincit amor.
David Brooks, while not condemning the two governors, saw their behavior as symptomatic of an age that has totally eschewed what used to be (at least in the days of the Founding Fathers, he suggested) a cultural ideal of decorum, dignity, and self-mastery. George Washington did not view his calm and relatively detached public face as some kind of mask--rather, it served the purpose of shaping (and not merely advertising) his moral and political conduct. The passions, whatever good they may do, are inherently potentially hazardous and must be curbed.
These positions more or less correspond to Romantic and Classical visions of the good life as consisting chiefly of feeling and order, respectively. I found myself agreeing with both of them, which suggests that the best life entails a balance of the two. Ages and cultures inevitably tilt more toward one or the other, and we have been in a Romantic age for quite a while now. The George Washingtons of the world just don't get the bloggers buzzing...
Is there some kind of parallel, even if not a simplistic one, between these two visions on the one hand and liberalism vs. conservatism on the other?