Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Empathy In The Bush Years

June 3 Commentary

It should be obvious to the casual observer the past few days, regarding Sotomayor coverage, that The Oklahoman editorial staff has been paying attention to the dear leaders of the far right (Rove, Armey, Limbaugh et. al.) more than usual.

In a fine piece entitled "Empathy, Sotomayor, and Democracy: The Conservative Stealth Strategy", George Lakoff explains quite clearly why the individuals from whom The Oklahoman Editorial staff get "their ideas" are saying what they are saying, and doing the things they are doing.

Before I get into the things Lakoff discusses in the article, I would like to share a blurb from an Oklahoma Editorial written right after the Iowa Primaries, when Mike Huckabee and President Obama won.

See change: Obama, Huckabee ride possibility politics
Published: January 6, 2008

"...Huckabee also defeated a better-funded opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Huckabee's message of change was based on empathy for the concerns of real Americans — economic and cultural — which he communicated artfully. Voters liked Huck." and then the writers conclude, quite interestingly "Huckabee found a formula for big victories that others ignore at their own expense. They connected with voters on a different level, sensing something not satisfied by conventional themes or policy proposals."

Now to the Lakoff article. In the piece he states a number of things that make it quite clear why we are seeing this attack on the issue of "empathy" from the far right. Here are a few I will point out, and if you would like to read the whole article I have included a link up top.

"(the form of empathy Obama tries to embrace gives) ...a view of a government that cares about its citizens and has a moral obligation to protect and empower them. Protection includes worker, consumer, and environmental protection as well as safety nets and health care. Empowerment includes what is in the president's stimulus plan: infrastructure, education, communication, energy, the availability of credit from banks, a stock market that works...Empathy in this sense is a threat to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of 'justice.' It is no surprise that empathy would be a major conservative target in the Sotomayor evaluation."

Lakoff goes on to write, agreeing with what The Oklahoman editors claimed was the reasons Iowan's chose Mike Huckabee "...President Obama has argued that empathy is the basis of our democracy. Why do we promote freedom and fairness for everyone, not just ourselves or the rich and powerful?" It is interesting that the editors spoke of Huckabee and his empathy, and how those he defeated "...ignore at their own expense". Now they are treating Obama in a manner that placing importance on empathy should be something that will cost him.

Before I go on, I want to address something that is quite an issue to The Oklahoman. I have pointed out they quite often play the "We are a Republic! Not a Democracy!" card many times, and always when it favors them (however they point to popular polls when it is an issue they side with quite regularly). The CIA World Factbook notes that our type of Government is: Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition. For those who might cringe when they read that Obama discusses things like the "basis of our democracy", they might consider whether or not they want to be like Pelosi and assume the CIA is giving us bad information.

Lakoff continues laying out his case that the far right is creating myths by portraying Obama's selection by reframing empathy to make it attackable by portraying it as "emotion and personal feeling" rather than his preferred "real empathy" which is the basis for what we should be as a functioning Republic (with a strong democratic tradition).

A case for empathy based on emotion and personal feeling, in my opinion, is one that the editors wanted France to embrace during the run-up to wars in Afghanastan and Iraq. War is a very serious thing, and not to be decided by people who rely on feelings. Pretty much anyone can tell you that, however, one would not know it by reading this December 17, 2001 piece:

Those Fickle French: Aid to Accused Terrorist Not Surprising
(article only available in archives)

In this editorial, the staff writes about "....France’s announcement that it would offer legal help to accused terrorist (French citizen of Moroccan birth) Zacarias Moussaoui (as we did with Timothy McVeigh)" and go on to explain how this action makes them feel how "... Frankly, we expect nothing less from France."

Continuing, the writers put themselves in a bind by saying "... Now, with the gesture toward Moussaoui and whispered concerns about the use of military tribunals in limited cases, France is showing once again that its empathy for America is somewhat fickle."

Now, we all know what has happened in the seven-plus years since this was written. Decisions to go into two wars (we will not win), and assuming that we will do well and others will back us based on emotion and personal feeling, is not a good thing. It is now perfectly clear that France made proper decisions, putting aside an immature form of empathy (the one the right so much wants to convince us Obama is after) and doing the right things.

Furthermore, an interesting article by William Pfaff entitled "As Smash-and-Grab Capitalism Collapses, the French Economy Shines" shows why the far right wants to make it appear as if Obama/Sotomayor are individuals who will make poor decisions, and bring about bad things for us:

“French household debt is half that in America, no bank has failed, none has been nationalized, executive pay is reasonable, and “the income gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent is far smaller than in Britain or America.” The country is crisscrossed by 230-mph TGV trains, 80 percent of the power is nuclear (and more is exported), its auto producers are in reasonably good shape, Air France is the most profitable airline in the world, and French-dominated Airbus sells more planes than Boeing.”

Lakoff makes an interesting statement regarding another reason the far-right is playing this game. He writes "...In the last election, conservative populists moved toward Obama. Conservative populists are working people, mostly white men, who have conservative views of the family, of masculinity, and of the military, and who have bought into the idea of the 'liberal elite' as looking down on them. Right now, they are hurting economically, losing their jobs and their homes. Empathy is something they need." He brings up how dear leaders like Newt Gingrich are playing the race card with Sotomayor and explains this is because the charge "...has a political purpose, holding onto conservative populists. The overt form of the old conservative argument is made regularly these days: liberalism is identity politics. "

Politics are complex things, however if we embrace the reality that we are the freest country in the world, and that part of the freedom includes increadible access to facts and history, not just access to delicious taco salads 24/7, we can understand these things quite well. In a January 21, 2008 editorial, we read:

Public affair : 10 years later, Lewinsky scandal echoes

The writers confirm that things can be complicated by starting off their piece with "...The reverberations are still felt, a number of questions it raised (are) still unanswered." The piece is centered on Hillary and her campaign for the Presidency, and the write that she is where she is at that time due to the fact that "...The scandal arguably launched Hillary Clinton's solo political career, the wronged wife winning a Senate seat in 2000. Her fortunes can still see-saw on the Lewinsky scandal — empathy for the betrayal she suffered; suspicion that she, blaming the 'vast right-wing conspiracy,' was an enabler."

Note how they believe the dear leaders of the far-right and their ways, parlayed with empathy were the foundation for her rise. For the first time they tell us irrational empathy is bad, but fail to explain that perhaps a real "vast right-wing conspiracy" did exist, one that kept Bill in office despite his heinous crime, lying under oath (obviously a crime worse than the brutal Iraq sanctions, doing away with Glass-Stegal, pardoning Rich without blinking an eyelash in the general direction of Peltier, etc...), for had they Gore would more than likely have an easier go at it in 2000. But that is just a side-note here, what is important to note that psuedo-empathy brought someone like Hillary to power. Someone The Oklahoman likes less than Huckabee and this fancy CEO:

Finding empathy the hard way, By Rick Hudson
Published August 27, 2004

In this piece written by The CEO of R.L. Hudson & Co., a Tulsa-based supplier of seals and molded goods, Hudson tells his story of how his company "..recently built our new headquarters in Broken Arrow..." and during the course of the building they "...learned that all of the restrooms in the building had to accommodate people with disabilities. The washbasins could not be installed in cabinets; they had to be open and wheelchair accessible. And there were other considerations, such as a required elevator if we added upper floors. It involved a lot of extra cost."

This is relevant because Hudson was once a man who was a "...conservative businessman, and normally like as little government interference in my life as possible. I was suspicious about the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), not because I’m against people with disabilities but because I’m afraid of the frivolous lawsuits and outright fraud that accompany far-reaching government programs."

He goes on to discuss having an accident, and seeing what it is like to be disabled for some time. Hudson essentially states that he is pleased the Supreme Court has shown sensible empathy to disabled folks (not irrational empathy that allows a man with a limp to bomb Afghani wedding parties to take out his anger at his plight), as is evident in the cases listed here. It is hard to imagine a piece like this being run in The Oklahoman at this time.

Concluding, Lakoff states that "...the attacks on Sotomayor work as attacks on Obama and progressive thought. They are also attacks on "moderate" conservatives, who think with progressives on many issues. The attacks activate radical conservative ideas in the brains of those who voted for Bush and the 47 percent of the voters who voted for McCain." and continue "...They have their message machine intact, with trained spokespeople booked on TV and radio shows all over the country (Folks like Dick Armey who spent increadible amounts of money, and explained this by saying "to the victor goes the spoils"). Attacking Sotomayor, even when they know she will win, allows them to rally their forces and get swing-voting conservatives thinking their way again." and he states what people who think this is wrong should do about all of this.

I will conclude with one more Bush era, pro "emotion and personal feeling" empathy pieces. And it is one many of the readers The Oklahoman preys upon consider important, and that is our relationship with Israel.

Shoulder to Shoulder: A Wounded Israel Needs U.S. Help
(article only available in archives 12.17.01)

I have written a few things about The Oklahoman's foolish opinions regarding this topic. If we assess their self-proclaimed "Friend of Israel" status, and see what results have come from people like these guys having a voice, we can learn something. One of which is quite obvious that like the dear leaders on the far-right, the gospels are something they know very little about.

In the late '01 editorial, the typical things are stated. They mention 9-11 a few times and truly awful things like a "..new terrorist suicide bombing attacks that left at least 26 Israelis dead in Jerusalem and Haifa over the weekend..." and conclude with "...Yes, how well we understand now. With new empathy, the United States must stand shoulder to shoulder with its friend Israel against terrorism — while demanding that Yasser Arafat declare his final loyalty. "

The Editor's cheered for emotional based empathy in dealing with Israel and it's issues and they got it. For those of us who know our recent history, in 2004 we decided the UN was not such a bad thing, and authored Resolution 1559 that required the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. Two years later this gave Israel strong encouragement to go into the only war they have lost in a couple thousand years. The emotional, feeling-based empathy embraced by the Bush Administration and nice guys like John Hagee, Joel "Shining a light on the thief in the night" Rosenberg and all of the dear leaders was no doubt something, if embraced by Obama and Sotomayor, that would not a good thing.

It would be good if The Oklahoman could present more evidence on the subject of their rants, however all we have is a game from these people that says Obama and Sotomayor possess a harmful type of empathy rather than the real type needed for good governance. The evidence is quite clear that everything they accuse Obama and Sotomeyer of possibly being, they embraced during the Bush years. I do not think that I need to point out to you that this is wrong.

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