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The Republican War On Empathy

By The Reverend Published: May 27, 2009

When Republicans first declared their National War Against Empathy From the Court (NWAEFC), I found it amazingly out of touch with basic common sense. But it's Republicans we're dealing with here.

Bitter conservatives instantly attacked Obama's mention of empathy as a quality he would be looking for in a new Supreme Court Justice. Of all things to attack, movement conservatives chose empathy. Now that Obama has selected Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court nominee, the unhinged wingnut chorus will no doubt escalate it's national war against the to-be-dreaded human quality....empathy.

Who knew that empathy could be so dangerous?

Empathy....."the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another."

Conservatives do not want to see ANY of that quality on the Supremes bench, as RNC Chairman, Michael Steele said, "Crazy nonsense empathetic! I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind!" Steele is leading the Republican Party comeback.

From a piece by Dahlia Lithwick at

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, speaking on This Week, warned that if a jurist were to show empathy, "politics, preferences, personal preferences and feelings might take the place of being impartial and deciding cases based upon the law, not upon politics." In an opinion piece in the Washington Times warning that Obama is poised to be the "first president to make lawlessness an explicit standard for Supreme Court Justices," Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network saw empathy as a kind of temporary insanity that so distorts a jurist's vision as to make it difficult "to uphold the federal judicial oath to dispense justice impartially." Over on Fox News, Sean Hannity warned that empathy is the first step toward "social engineering." And in a delicious Freudian slip, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama snorted: "I don't know what empathy means."

Obviously, then, conservatives and Republicans have found something else besides "terror" to be deathly afraid of. Empathy from a judge is the new Islamic extremism.

Consider. The Constitution, as written by the Framers, did not include freedom or equality for slaves in America. Nowhere in the original text were slaves recognized as equals. Slavery, had it been left exclusively to textual, yet empathy averse, Constitutional jurists, would have never ended.

My point is that without empathy, it isn't even possible to fulfill the spirit of our Constitution's letter. How is it possible to identify what's right and wrong in cases concerning human beings if a judge can't make....."the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another."?

Why should women have a right to vote? Why should minorities not be openly discriminated against? Without the ability to empathize, those questions are not even recognized as legitimate questions.

Let's take one John Roberts ruling to illustrate why empathy in a Supreme Court Justice is a good thing and not something to be afraid of. In the Lily Ledbetter case, a case involving pay discrimination by Goodyear, Chief Justice John Roberts could have written his decision based on the original intent of the congressional law under consideration, if empathy would have been allowed to creep into his thinking. The original intent of the law was to protect people like Lily Ledbetter from being discriminated against in the area of pay equality.

Instead, Roberts searched the letter of that law to find a justification for Goodyear's discrimination of Ms. Ledbetter. A loophole. And he found it. Roberts had no empathy. Roberts did not identify vicariously with the true victim in the case. Roberts did not for one second try to put himself in the experiencial shoes of Ms. Ledbetter. Roberts saw the case as a game to be played in order to assist powerful corporate interests.

Because of John Roberts lack of empathy, Congress had to rewrite equal pay legislation so that future empathy-challenged Supreme Court judges could not coldly discover a loophole to bypass the very intent of the law.

I welcome the upcoming war against empathy by conservatives and their corporate media stenographers.

Conservatives might feel guilty in defending the savage torture of powerless detainees if empathy wins this war. Conservatives of the neo-kind might not feel as comfortable pressing for more and larger wars of aggression against countries posing no threat to the U.S., if empathy prevails. Conservatives might not be able to openly and defiantly bash and discriminate against gays if empathy is fully embraced in America. Conservatives might not feel so righteous in attacking women who must make their own difficult reproductive choices....if empathy is left on the national table.

And so to those in the conservative swamp who are girding their loins for battle against this new and horrible enemy....I leave you with this familiar challenge....

Bring it on.

Here is an exceptional piece on John Roberts by lawyer and CNN contributor, Jeffrey Toobin.



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