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  • Empathy, The Middle Class, and Obama

    Posted by David Foster on August 30th, 2012 (All posts by )

    I’ve frequently heard various Democratic operatives and Dem-supporting journalists asserting that Obama has empathy with the middle class, which (according to them) Mitt Romney lacks. Which raises two questions:

    –What sort of middle-class empathy does Obama really have?

    –What sort of empathy should a leader have?

    Regarding the first question, it might help to segment the concept of the “middle class.” I think Obama’s attitude toward struggling blue-collar members of the middle class–especially those who live in small towns–is pretty clearly illuminated by his 2008 comment (at a private fundraiser) about such individuals being “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them..” His attitude toward middle-class small businesspeople shines through clearly in his “you didn’t build that” assertion. And his attitude toward upper-middle class professionals is demonstrated by his reflection about how boring it would have been for him to be a Wall Street lawyer, and his apparent belief that doctors regularly choose to amputate the feet of diabetic patients because it pays better than treating them.

    In reality, Obama’s attitude toward the middle class is pretty much as the same as his attitude toward just about everybody else–contempt. At best, there is a sort of condescending pity, but rarely if ever anything approximating actual respect.

    What sort of empathy should we want in a political leader, anyhow? As an analogy: imagine that you’re on an airliner that is in trouble and needs help from Air Traffic Control. You certainly want your assigned controller to care very deeply about the safety of your flight–but do you really want him to be spending his mental bandwidth “feeling your pain” in a Clintonian sense? Or if you’re a patient undergoing surgery, doesn’t the same point apply? You want genuine concern about getting the job done, but you don’t want or need a lot of emoting and especially you don’t want or need emotional display.

    What you should want, in the case of a leader, is alignment of goals–you want the criteria by which the leader measures his own success to have a high overlap with the things you want him to accomplish. And it should be clear that if Obama succeeds in fundamentally transforming American society to something that accords with his vision–more centralized government power, a diminished private sector, a transition away from fossil fuels, a larger union movement, more focus on ethnic identities and less on common American identity, etc.–he will feel that he has succeeded, regardless of what happens to the standard of living and economic opportunities for middle-class Americans.

     

    23 Responses to “Empathy, The Middle Class, and Obama”

    1. Ginny Says:

      Nicely summarized. Of course, his empathy – like those of his ilk throughout history – is theoretical and political; LBJ’s policies have proved to destroy the felicity of swaths of people, perhaps it was not the largest element but a part of his motivation was what he saw as a teacher in the Valley. With Obama it seems political – theoretical – all the way through. He came to Chicago with the vision in mind. And how can you empathize if you see others as kulaks?

    2. David Foster Says:

      Ginny….”With Obama it seems political – theoretical – all the way through.”

      Here’s C S Lewis, describing his protagonist (a sociologist) in the novel That Hideous Strength:

      “..his education had had the curious effect of making things that he read and wrote more real to him than the things he saw. Statistics about agricultural laboureres were the substance: any real ditcher, ploughman, or farmer’s boy, was the shadow…he had a great reluctance, in his work, to ever use such words as “man” or “woman.” He preferred to write about “vocational groups,” “elements,” “classes,” and “populations”: for, in his own way, he believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of the things that are not seen.”

    3. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Empathy? Hussein? You are kidding. It shows that the MSM is far too committed to reciting its lines and completely alienated from consensual reality.

    4. David Foster Says:

      Related–the clerisy versus the yeomanry:

      http://www.newgeography.com/content/003056-the-unseen-class-war-that-could-decide-the-presidential-election

    5. Jaime Roberto Says:

      With regards to the Presidency I would rather feel competency than empathy.

    6. Sgt, Mom Says:

      I agree with Jaime – empathy is nice, but competence rules.

    7. Percy Dovetonsils Says:

      “I’ve frequently heard various Democratic operatives and Dem-supporting journalists asserting that Obama has empathy with the middle class…”

      Did these people then break into gales of laughter, slap you on the back and say, “Nah, just messing with you!”

    8. David Foster Says:

      “Did these people then break into gales of laughter, slap you on the back and say, “Nah, just messing with you!””

      …hard to do over a television or radio channel….the sad part is, I think most of them really believe it.

    9. Vlad Konings Says:

      I found myself thinking of something I read about Adachi Hatazo, a Japanese general of the Second World War who committed suicide rather than face a war crimes trial:

      He gained a reputation as a “soldier’s general,” though perhaps not in a sense immediately recognizable to Westerners. Witnessing the miserable living conditions of Japanese troops, he resolved to share their privations, rather than to ameliorate them.

      Of course, Mr. Obama doesn’t even rise to this level of empathy. He talks a lot, but I don’t see him trying to share the privations of middle-class Americans by, for example, giving up some of his golf time to work longer hours on the country’s problems.

    10. Mike_K Says:

      “He talks a lot, but I don’t see him trying to share the privations of middle-class Americans by, for example, giving up some of his golf time to work longer hours on the country’s problems.”

      Thank God ! Imagine the mischief which would ensue if he really tried !

    11. BigGuy Says:

      Obama has sufficient empathy to be effective. I don’t think he has all the contempt you imagine, but he has a great deal of reserve for a politician. He tries to avoid expressing opinions about everything.

      Obama does not do some very political things. He does not listen to very wealthy people, even the ones giving money to his campaign, talking about “what needs to be done”. He does not make telephone calls to political friends and enemies on their birthdays and anniversaries. He doesn’t shmooze.

    12. PenGun Says:

      You did no build that. The infrastructure your society depends on was built by the common wealth of your country.

      Apart from the Fox News lie, a doctored video, it’s fairly obvious to anyone with a brain.

    13. Death 6 Says:

      I think the attitude we see displayed so graphically in Barry is the essence of the progressive mindset. They feel they are gifted by virtue of their common ideological fidelity to have both the intelligence and the calling to rule through whatever power structure exists in order to force, control, manipulate or nudge those of lesser talent or motivation to conform to their edicts. If it is necessary to appeal to other’s short term concerns in order to consolidate support to make their core value of centralization of power happen, that is the extent of their empathy. It is no surprise that the media elites support both the core goal and the tactics because they largely come from the ideological progressive institutions and journalism schools. Empathy is great cover for promising results that do not logically or realistically follow from the prescriptions offered, especially in the long term. Our culture has been conditioned by the mass media to accept emotional connection as a reliable decision making process. Accountability or truth is quickly lost to managed news cycles and selective reporting.

      Competence is necessary, but technical competence is not nearly as important as leadership competence. The ability to gather like-minded technical experts in the wide variety of key areas and sort out and build support for the best strategies to move in the desired, coordinated direction is the key competency needed. This was Reagan’s genius.

      Mike

    14. Sgt, Mom Says:

      “… it’s fairly obvious to anyone with a brain.”

      Well, that leaves you out, Pengunny, doesn’t it?

    15. Mike_K Says:

      ” a doctored video,”

      HAHAHAHAHAHA

    16. Jason in LA Says:

      “It was Barack Obama who said, ‘You didn’t build it.’
      Translation, ‘It doesn’t belong to you.'” — Mike Huckabee

      With all due respect to Paul Ryan, that was the most effective line of the night.

    17. elf Says:

      Ah PenGun – our wealth is not held in common.

      And to the extent that it is, it’s a disaster.

    18. Bill Brandt Says:

      If Obama has empathy to me I wish he wouldn’t care so much ;-)

    19. bgates Says:

      He tries to avoid expressing opinions about everything.

      He’s graced us with his thoughts on whether the Cambridge police (in an incident he admitted he knew little about) acted stupidly, his own Secret Service detail’s predilection for shooting unfamiliar black men, the odd murder trial in Florida, the advantages of a playoff system for college football, who will win the corresponding tournament for basketball (got an hour on tv for that one), ideal tire pressure and thermostat settings (for us not him), the winner of a hypothetical game between the 1992 Olympic basketball squad and this year’s team, what’s wrong with white people in small town America, his favorite chili….

    20. David Foster Says:

      An article that needs to be read: “Why did Obama fail? Or has Obama actually succeeded?”

      Excerpt:

      “What Mr. Obama is doing right now — he has in fact spent his entire career doing. Where are all those glowing media stories about how much better off the South Side of Chicago was after the famous community organizer departed? There are none, of course. Because it simply didn’t happen.
      Or did it? Isn’t creating a community of perpetual economic misery throbbing with racism and thuggish union leaders part of the eternal leftist plan?”

      Read the whole thing:

      http://spectator.org/archives/2012/08/30/how-obama-succeeds-by-failing/

    21. jaed Says:

      You did no build that. The infrastructure your society depends on was built by the common wealth of your country.

      And where exactly do you suppose the common wealth of the country comes from? The government creates it out of thin air? The beneficence of Barack Obama provides it to us?

      There’s nobody here but us chickens, PenGun. If it’s here, one way or another, we built it.

    22. Ginny Says:

      Any question of first cause goes beyond one generation. Some “thinkers” seem incapable of developing that perspective. At best, it is always the mines of northern England in 1850 or the steel mills of 1890 – without acknowledging that that painful step was a step on the way to a true middle class society.

      Only in a poorly educated world would someone not feel shame at putting on buttons the murderers they idolize? Surely the backpack belongs to someone irresponsible, yes, but not psychopathic. But, wouldn’t history or reality ask if it is less psychopathic to idolize such beliefs than Charles Manson?

    23. tyouth Says:

      “….without acknowledging that that painful step was a step on the way to a true middle class society. ”

      Yes, and even that “painful step” was (probably, and, at least from his perspective) the least painful and probably the best alternative available at that time and place. One can bet that the average person, let’s say the average sharecropper, in the world at the time would have loved to have had the same choice.