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[politics] Empathy and imagination - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-10-01 05:18
Subject: [politics] Empathy and imagination
Security: Public
Tags:culture, healthcare, personal, politics
I've commented before that the contemporary American conservative mindset appears to be a failure of both empathy and imagination. I'm not talking about the limited government/strong defense/private enterprise axis of political thought, all of which are perfectly legitimate ideas about which I have varied opinions. I'm talking about the current social and political mindset of many Republican voters, as expressed in the party platforms they support, the candidates they select, and the leaders they elect.

In another part of this country lives a friend of mine with whom I have significant political differences. Not particularly relevant to our friendship, as we simply don't talk about politics much. He's an intelligent, thoughtful, generous guy who genuinely cares about the people around him, enjoys his life, and wants everyone else to enjoy theirs. Yet one day in a discussion about healthcare reform, he said to me, "I worked hard to buy that big screen television. Why should I give it up for someone else who doesn't work as hard as I do?"

Meaning, in effect, why should he pay taxes to support someone less hard working or fortunate than he is?

To me, that's a profound failure of both empathy and imagination on my friend's part. He doesn't see that someone not born into middle class white male privilege would have a much harder time achieving what he has achieved. That for the same amount of work as he's put in, and frankly quite a bit more, some people can barely pay the rent and keep their kids fed. He doesn't see that someone who gets sick and isn't inside our country's dubious healthcare safety net can so easily lose everything no matter how well they've followed the rules and how hard they've tried. He doesn't see that making sure everybody has a decent education and good health and positive working conditions and the right to vote benefits him just as much as it benefits the rest of society.

What he sees is people who don't work as hard as he do, taking his money. Benefits going to the undeserving at his expense.

And that perception has rendered one of our two major political parties into a cesspool of mean-spirited anger, resentment and punishment. Romney's 47% remarks were surprising only in their candor, not their content. What he said is implicit in nearly every state GOP party platform as well as the national platform, in the entire process of the Republican presidential primary, the GOP positions on everything from healthcare reform to women's health.

It's because people like my friend can't imagine themselves in a position of need or dependency. And they don't seem to be able to empathize with those who are. This results in a system where even when help is available, the processes put in place to screen out the undeserving overwhelm those who need help most. (See my multiple posts on the paperwork issues in my healthcare journey.) We prioritize compliance over need every time, precisely because of the need to cater to the conservative failure of empathy and imagination when designing those public programs. And that is when the system is working as designed. God help those people who can't check all the right boxes.

The real dialog should be over how we solve those problems. Not whether they are legitimate, or whether the people who need help are moochers. It isn't about the 47%. It's about being human beings in a humane society. Almost half our country has lost its moral compass with respect to anything beyond its own large screen televisions, and making sure the undeserving don't get more than their share.

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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-10-01 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fantastic post. I couldn't agree more. My take on Romney's 47 percent comments are that it was a deeply cynical political strategy that backfired on him disastrously.

Romney had to KNOW where he got that 47 percent figure. He had to KNOW that it included senior citizens and working poor who fall below the federal income tax threshold, but NOT PAYROLL, which is 14 percent off the top with no deductions, no exceptions (oddly the same percentage Romney himself paid...hmmm). He knew that, and yet he chose to use it in a setting where he was soliciting votes from conservative backers. Why? Because by framing that 47 percent as moochers, he could raise the specter of a vast, lazy, undeserving class of people living the good life at the expense of the rest of us who work for a living. (Never mind that trying to live on welfare benefits is utter misery because the benefits are based on the cost of living in something like 1975.) It's a strange world we live in here a political candidate attempts to SCARE his supporters into giving him money. Probably also coded racism, too, because many conservatives will immediately think of urban blacks when they think of the 47 percent "not paying federal income tax." They won't think of their elderly, white, upper middle class neighbor who mows his lawn every weekend.

I'm glad it blew up in his face. He deserved it. Our country is better than this, and the republican party is better than this. I'm glad people are waking up. Romney was a different kind of politician when he was governor of Massachusetts. He chose to recast himself as the leader of the Religious Right/Ayn Rand libertarian crowd, and now he has to lie in the bed he made. I hope it's a lesson. I hope it sparks some change.

(Sorry for the lengthy rant.)
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-10-01 23:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>>Romney had to KNOW where he got that 47 percent figure.<<

You would think so, considering that all of the groups, etc. you mentioned are outlined in the same report that came up with the 47% figure in the first place. Maybe he was simply counting on nobody else reading the report.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-10-01 23:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know, right?
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-10-01 23:35 (UTC)
Subject: P.S.
>>Romney was a different kind of politician when he was governor of Massachusetts<<

More like his father, maybe. But I'm sure he's deeply aware that his father lost the '68 Republican nomination (though also for reasons that had nothing to do with his politics).
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threeoutside
User: threeoutside
Date: 2012-10-01 14:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Total, 100% agreement here. Well stated.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-10-01 15:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm from a country that has national healthcare: the united kingdom. We spend roughly 1/3rd more as a percentage of GDP than the united states does on government supported health care. When you include the cost of funding health care for government and state workers, the military etc, America probably spends more for government health care than the UK.

So, your friend is paying almost the same in taxes as I am for health care, but he also has to pay for health insurance.

Has anyone pointed out to your friend that national healthcare removes a burden on businesses that makes it much easier to hire people like him?

Or that sick people who are left untreated provide a well of infection that could make his kids ill when they brush past him on the street?




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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-10-01 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A friend of mine had a similar argument recently but used herself as an example. She is an MD, actually an anesthesiologist. She worked hard at school, got into medical school, worked hard to qualify, worked hard in her profession. Then, about five years ago, turning left at a traffic light somebody rear ended her car at about 45 mph. She can't work as an anesthesiologist anymore. She's lost a non-trivial amount of cognitive ability, has significant back damage that means she can't stand or walk for long periods of time and still can't actually function long enough per day to work.

She had good work related critical injury insurance but it doesn't give her remotely the income she used to have and won't. As she pointed out to her friend, she did everything right, and yet, even she can barely cover the co-payments for the treatment and drugs she needs to function everyday, and with her chronic injury, she's unlikely to ever recover fully.

He was a little unsure how to answer her question except it became apparent that he wasn't thinking of people like her, he was thinking of the 'other' people who were lazy.

Her partner, also a doctor, calls himself a fiscal conservative, but also doesn't see how the current medical ediface can survive purely because its so out of control.

I'm constantly astounded that by British standards people would consider me quite conservative (not that I actually vote that way) and by US standards I find a lot of the Democratic Party uncomfortably right wing.
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Msconduct
User: msconduct
Date: 2012-10-01 21:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, most people from the UK (where I was born) and places with similar systems like New Zealand (where I now live) find the Democratic policies not uncomfortably right wing, but insanely right wing. The leftest wing they get doesn't come within a mile of our right wing, let alone our left. We're out of sight along the left-wing continuum. Therefore every Republican/Democrat-voting American is off-the-charts conservative by our standards.

Edited at 2012-10-01 09:57 pm (UTC)
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-10-01 22:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do find the idea of Barack Obama being considered to be a socialist amusing, especially when I think of actual socialists like, say, Tony Benn who would find Obama to be on par with Margaret Thatcher... which, politically speaking, isn't far from the truth.
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Msconduct
User: msconduct
Date: 2012-10-01 22:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Barack Obama as a socialist! Snicker! Margaret Thatcher was certainly greatly influenced by Chicago School economics, but even she would not have attempted to suggest moving to an insurance-based health system. I think that's the fundamental difference between the US and The Rest Of Us: no matter how right-wing our conservative policies may be, they rest on a shared societal agreement that we are willing to pay taxes to make sure everyone has access to what we consider the fundamentals. It's the lack of that in the US that makes it look so extremely right-wing to us, no matter what other worthy policies the Democrats may support.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-10-01 22:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No one *sane* considers Obama a socialist. That's an American conservative scare word on a par with pedophile or baby eater, which in turn is short hand for a bunch of deeply illogical political paranoia. Not much to do with actual socialism as practiced by actual socialists anywhere in the world.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-10-02 08:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Unfortunately the meme has traction, so that plenty of Obama supporters also inexplicably consider him to be very progressive/left-wing.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-10-04 06:02 (UTC)
Subject: Interesting Qustion
I beleave a way to deal with secnarios like that would be to end damaging policies like the war on drugs which our country spends 42 billion on year on enforcing marijuana laws alone.Take that money and split it up to individual states as incentive to start there own health care programs for the public.States like Oregon have hade success with this.We're already paying this much in taxes on these harmful policies may as well make it benefical.
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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-10-01 16:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Exploitation requires a lack of empathy. Even if you are not benefiting from exploitation directly, but feel you have to justify it.

But I wouldn't say that there is a failure of imagination. Contemporary American conservatives have to believe in all kinds of falsehoods, and new falsehoods must be made up every day to paper over the ever widening cracks between reality and their ideology.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-10-01 16:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> It's because people like my friend can't imagine themselves in a position of need or dependency. And they don't seem to be able to empathize with those who are.

My father, an Eisenhower-style Republican and pillar of the community, made an attempt to change jobs in the 1970s recessions, then changed jobs again, left the community, became downwardly mobile. Long story short, he found himself unemployed. It was really tough on him.

I happened to be there when his best friend visited. Somehow his friend got on the subject of unemployment insurance: "I really object to sending my tax money so those lazy bums can lay on the couch all day." Then his friend realized my Dad was one of those "lazy bums" and added, "Not you, of course, I don't mind helping somebody who deserves it." And I thought, it's always those OTHER lazy bums who are the problem.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-10-01 22:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Your friend and my mother. I just don't get it, either.
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andelku: Apu
User: andelku
Date: 2012-10-02 03:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Apu
It also assumes that he is not in fact ever on the taking end. That he never uses roads, libraries, law enforcement, public health inspectors, that his student loans were not subsidized, that his public education was not paid for, that the damn that generates his electricity was never built by anybody's taxpayer dollars.

State school libertarianism pisses me off.
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set bloggles to stun
User: elizaeffect
Date: 2012-10-02 14:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
None of the rest of your argument needs to be said, because (though my interpretation may be uncharitable) your friend just equated health insurance, the very ability to *survive* by receiving medical care, with buying a big-screen TV.

There's your failure of empathy right there.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-10-03 04:37 (UTC)
Subject: Related Subject, From Huffpost
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-li/romney-privilege_b_1917164.html
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