Why Defend Empathy?

Paper tigers abound in these weird times, when Democrats appear to be walking on glass and Republicans are rubbing their eyes because the media is spoon feeding them.

This is the context of the empathy flap currently claimed to be hobbling Obama’s Supreme Court fight in the making.

The fact is that empathy, the ability to see other sides of a situation, is simply a sympathetic term for understanding, insight or perception.

None of this works as a soundbite, so here are a few notions of empathy that Democrats can use with reporters.

Empathy is what concerned parents feel when their kid gets into trouble. It’s what parents do when they love their kids in spite of everything.

Empathy is opening a door for someone who is overloaded with packages. It’s the instinct to help someone who’s struggling.

Empathy is continuing to listen when the person speaking to you is overcome with a case of nerves. It’s giving everyone a voice.

Empathy is seeing things as others see them — saying, I can see how you might feel that way. It’s considering the views of others.

Empathy needs no defense.

What might need defense is the opposite of empathy, including

Insensitivity to the feelings or position of others.

The inability to see more than one side of anything.

A general intolerance of anyone who does not share your values, your religion, your politics.

Anyone who allows Republicans to claim the higher ground, because they can skewer the term empathy and define it in a completely false and distorted way, is caving in to a venal and degrading process.

Empathy is not a code word for an effort to politicize the court. A code word for that is what the Court did in 2000 when it deigned to make a completely political decision to thwart an embarrassing but legitimate struggle to resolve a close election.



3 thoughts on “Why Defend Empathy?

  1. Here’s a link, apparently sympathetic to Obama, where the original quote in its fuller context. Whether he was including empathy with “other points” that he was giving “equal credence to” is, I suppose, open to interpretation. Just FYI


  2. stephencrose says:

    2000 it is! Thanks.

    I think the President included empathy with other points that he gave equal credence to.

  3. Empathy needs no defense, sure. But the issue is not that people think empathy is bad or wrong and are ‘attacking empathy’. The issue is that (in the critics’ eyes – certainly you may disagree) empathy is not a primary qualification for the Supreme Court. It’s not a disqualification by any means, and indeed all else equal I’m sure everyone would rather a Justice had empathy than not (!). But it’s not a primary qualification, in the critics’ view, and so saying that you’re looking for ’empathy’ in a Justice is like saying you’re looking for a left-handed brown-eyed Justice – even if it works fine, it just misses the point and demonstrates the wrong priorities. Again: you may disagree, but it’s better to disagree with the actual point critics are making than with something else.

    P.S. I think you meant “2000” not 2004?

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