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Empathy for the Devil

Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also the presumptive next presidential nominee of the Democratic party, gave an interesting speech at Georgetown University a few days ago. Most of the press coverage focused on the size of the crowd, which was conspicuously less than the Led Zeppelin reunion tour-sized turnout one might expect for such an credentialed person, but her remarks were also worth noting.
The reviews of the speech were so uniformly negative that even such a reliably Democratic scribe as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opined that Clinton has “lost that ‘new car smell,'” and even went so far as to ridicule her arguments for feminine leadership of the world as a remedy for its woes, but only the conservative press was so unkind as to delve into its content. The gist of the speech, so far as we discern from all the snark, is that American foreign policy must be based on an “empathy” for its foes.
“This is what we call ‘smart power,'” Clinton said in her speech, if the transcripts are to believed, “using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and, insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view, helping to define the problems to determine the solution. This is what we believe, in the 21st century, will change, change the prospects for peace.”
Anyone trying to understand why Russia now controls a large chunk of what used to be Ukraine and China is rapidly exerting similar control of large swathes of the formerly autonomous Pacific Ocean and Iran is steadily progressing toward nuclear weaponry that it has already announced they will use to affect another Holocaust need only realize that such hippy-dippy thinking has informed America’s “smart” foreign policy for the past six years or so. We have nothing against trying to understand our adversaries’ thinking, and cooly assessing that Russia is nostalgic for the good old days when it imposed its totalitarian ideology on Eastern Europe and China feels entitled to the same hegemony in its region and that Iran’s medieval theology compels it to hate infidels in general and Jews in particular, but we aren’t so suicidally empathetic as to concede that any of them have any valid points that America is obliged to respect. Back when the French were big in the diplomacy business they had an expression that “tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner,” which roughly translates as “to understand all is to forgive all,” and it was such enlightened thinking that led to that country’s many years of Nazi occupation.
What strikes us as most odd about such progressive thought, however, is that it so rarely extends to domestic issues. The likes of Clinton are ever eager to offer a “reset” button to the likes of Vladimir Putin as penance for the sins of the George W. Bush administration’s harsher response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, but will always regard Bush as Chimpy McBushitler for his 32 percent income tax rate on the top margins. The Chinese communists can be forgiven their bullying of the Taiwanese and Filipinos and Japanese and anyone else in their vicinity, but any American cop or neighborhood patrolman who defends himself against the life-threatening aggression of a neighborhood thug is presumed racist. The Iranian government’s policy of executing homosexuals is not reason to worry about what it might do with a nuclear bomb, but any resistance to same-sex marriage in America is regarded as a religious mania.
Conservatives can just be as prone to a lack of empathy, which is after all a normal human tendency, but the pervasiveness of liberal thinking makes it harder for them not have some understanding of their ideological opponents’ reasoning, such as it is. The modern media landscape too often allows liberals to shield themselves from conservative thinking, and to regard it with the same suspicion and prejudice they ascribe to anyone outside their carefully cocooned circles. We advise them to show some respect and understanding for their enemies, and insofar as is psychologically possible to empathize with their perspective and point of view. We’d also advise them to start to looking around for another presidential nominee.

— Bud Norman

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One response

  1. Hello from the physical middle of America, which I don’t think you represent quite as well as you suppose. I am no fan of Hilary Clinton, and I have no confidence that anything she says in a campaign speech would bear any resemblance to her actual foreign policy if she were elected. But I think whoever wrote that speech for her made a good point.

    What if we interpret “empathy” in the quoted passage not as wishy-washy forgiveness, but as clear-eyed understanding of the issues that really drive our allies and adversaries. Most of the time America’s enemies are not “evildoers” as another famous political speech argued, but people whose interests conflict with our own. It might help us to have a clear and honest understanding of our own national interests, and to acknowledge that what’s good for America may not always be good for everybody else. Contrary to the rhetoric, most of our adversaries don’t “hate us for our freedom.” Often they object to our pursuit of US national interest because they believe it blocks their ability to pursue their own national interest. Only rarely is this foreign national interest something ridiculous like establishing a caliphate. And even when resistance does take that form, it might be useful for us to reflect on the amount of foreign interference in their homelands that drives people to embrace such a ridiculous, desperate solution.

    Incidentally, your point about the French was inaccurate. The main reason they were invaded was not their cultural relativism, it was the fact they shared a long border with Germany that the two nations had been fighting over for centuries.

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