Republicans lack empathy.

This is a phrase that is tossed about by Democrats in forums, and often can lead to many irresolvable arguments between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, if you are a Democrat, you probably agree wholeheartedly with this post’s title. And if you are a Republican, you probably are thinking: “Oh, yeah? Well, then why did Democrats oppose overthrowing Saddam, whereas Republicans supported it? Where’s the empathy for all those poor people he oppressed?” Or: “What about having empathy for the working-class and wealthy people the Democrats want to make pay for social programs?” Or: “What about empathy for all those aborted babies?” Then you dismiss this blog altogether.

The trouble is that these responses come from a flawed understanding of empathy. Empathy does not imply compassion, or mercy, or charity. It is merely the ability to think like someone else, to put oneself in someone else’s position, to assume their values and beliefs. One need not maintain them forever. I can imagine, for example, what it was like for Saddam to be executed. I imagine that being executed was unpleasant. Yet merely comprehending this fact does not mean I object to Saddam being executed.

However, both of the typical responses I outlined above stem from the erroneous belief that empathy implies kindness and compassion. Empathy may frequently result in such things, but it need not always.

And so the Republicans problem arises: They see things simply in terms of: “Are the good guys in this scenario being hurt or helped?” Democrats, though, think like this: “What is it like to be Group A in this case? What is it like to be in Group B? Who’s hurt more? Who needs help more?”

Again, at this point I’m sure Republican readers are sceptical. If Democrats are really applying this reasoning, why do they seem to side with, say, pro-abortion activists who not only support what Republicans consider murder, but attack anti-abortion activists with, at times, vitriolic rhetoric? But again, they feel empathy, they simply don’t agree with their beliefs.

In short, to be absolutely clear, I am not saying the Democrats or their views are necessarily superior to the Republicans and their views. Nor am I saying that Republicans don’t want to help other people. (They just may not be as good at figuring out what is likely to help other people.)I am saying however, that the Democrats enjoy a tremendous strategic advantage because of this ability. I don’t think the Republicans are aware of it yet.

I am sure other people have noticed, and probably written about, this issue as well, though perhaps in different terms, as a Google search on the phrase “Republicans lack empathy” turns up little beyond the taunts-given and received without understanding their meaning-that I alluded to at the beginning of this post.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?