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Thursday, July 02, 2009

The ugliness of the GOP's empathy gap

by kos
Wed Jul 01, 2009 at 09:16:03 AM PDT

I've clearly been a bit obsessed with the political value of empathy, and the central role it has played in the current troubles of the GOP (here, here, and here).

[Progressive values of] community, opportunity, and investing in people stem in large part from "empathy". They are the antithesis of selfishness and looking out only for oneself. Empathy means putting ourselves in other people's shoes, and being progressive means acting on that empathy. So we do what we can to level the playing field so children who aren't born into privilege can still have many of the opportunities enjoyed by trust fund babies. It means understanding the pernicious effects of discrimination and working to mitigate and eliminate them. It means realizing that the law should be applied to all Americans, and that none should be denied equal protection because of majoritarian intolerance.

As I systematically lay out in those three posts linked above, the GOP's empathy gap is a large reason for its troubles with the young millennial generation, women, and ethnic and racial minorities. Furthermore, the conservative base now blames "compassionate conservatism" in large (if not total) part for George Bush's failures as president. And what was "compassionate conservatism"? Karl Rove's attempt to negate the GOP's empathy gap with swing and independent voters in 2000. "Compassion" is a synonym for "empathy".

I thought of all that when reading this by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Think about this statement which Steve Benen flagged from Liz Cheney:

We've now seen several different occasions when he's been on the international trips, where he's not willing to say, flat out, 'I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe unequivocally, unapologetically, America is the best nation that ever existed in history, and clearly that exists today.' Instead we've seen him do what we saw him do in the speech in Cairo, which is sort of, 'on one hand this, on the other hand that,' and then attempt to put himself sort of above it all. I think that troubles people. The best nation that ever existed in history. No conservative skepticism. No Niebuhrian humility [...]

What you have [...] is a hustle, a bait and switch, in which one claims to be hawking patriotism, but in fact, is selling jingoism. If patriotism is love of country, then much of the unquestioning GOP rhetoric fails on the rudiments. Is love of kin, love of siblings, love of spouse, telling your beloved, that they are the best person that's ever existed in history? Or is that sycophancy, fast talk proffered by loose friends, who in your darkest hours, appeal to your worst self.

The religious right isn't what's wrong with the GOP. It's the pervasive, unthinking, unreflective nationalism. It's the arrogance of thrice-divorced adulterers reaching for the banner of traditional families, and it's the arrogance of men who prosecuted a poorly planned war, on weak intelligence, presuming to lecture us on national security.

Or, you can distill that all down to "lack of empathy". Liz Cheney honestly thinks it would be in America's interest for its president to swagger around the world telling people they aren't as good as America because we are the best EVER, so screw you! The slightest shred of empathy would help you understand how counterproductive and potentially destructive such an approach would be, and Obama was elected, in large part, on the promise of a more humble and understanding foreign policy. People got tired of an administration that couldn't understand why torturing and indiscriminately starting wars was destroying our global reputation. We're the best bleeping country ever! America, bleep yeah!

I'm proud to be Latino, but I don't think Latinos are the best ethnic group in world history. I adore my kids, but ... yeah, you're shit out of luck there. I got the best ever. But aside from those two bundles of perfection, there's the obvious realization that I love my dearest family members and friends not because they are the best that have ever existed, but because they are wonderful people in their own rights. There is no need for me to create a hierarchy and judge people against each other.

But conservatives obviously do, whether it's their nationalistic jingoism, or their creepy Ronald Reagan obsession, they create artificial ideals and worship at their altars. There is always someone who is "the best", which is why Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a racist affirmative action nominee who isn't as good as "the best man for the job". That pathological lack of empathy further extends from the hypocritical moralizing (failing to accept that we are all imperfect and capable of moral failings), to the vicious homophobia.

It's ugly, and as long as the Republican Party maintains an allegiance to this pathology, its electoral path will be difficult at best.


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