The empathy gene

June 1
happened to catch The Bill Maher Show the other night and overheard a
discussion about President Obama's handling of the Gulf disaster. Regardless of
one's perception of how well or poorly Obama has done, Maher said, he lacks
'the empathy gene.'

found the observation particularly astute. Obama does lack the empathy gene and
reminds me of what I've read about President Woodrow Wilson. I've just
completed a book entitled, 'George, Nicholas and Wilhelm' by Miranda Carter. It
details the three royal cousins and grandsons of Queen Victoria whose
dysfunctional relationships and management helped precipitate World War I.
According to Ms. Carter, there were very few things all three monarchs agreed upon.
One, though, was Wilson, whom Wilhelm described as an 'unmitigated, academic

Wilson's highly-documented intellectual snobbery and near-total lack of
compassion contributed to his failure to convince Congress to agree to join the
League of Nations (the U.N.'s predecessor). That, in turn, set in motion the
chain of events that eventually led to World War II.

is a modern-day Wilson. He has shown a complete lack of empathy towards the
Gulf disaster and its inhabitants. Sure, he's held press conferences and made a
visit or two. But, where's the tearing eyes of a Ronald Reagan or the
hysterical sobbing of a William Jefferson Clinton? The country in general, and
the Gulf Shore in particular, desperately need to see some empathy from 44.

missing empathy gene got me thinking about how the various presidents in my
lifetime might have demonstrated empathy in the midst of the Gulf calamity.

what I came up with. See if you agree:

Obama: Cool, calm and collected to a fault. Zero empathy.

W: He'd be curled up in front of the tube watching a Texas Rangers game,
totally oblivious to the disaster. When finally informed, he'd defer to Cheney,
who'd laud BP for its rapid response.

Clinton: His tears would rival the number of gallons of oil spilled to date.
The man would be beside himself (and probably cozying up to a comely Alabama
intern to help him deal with his own, inner demons).

: I think George H.W. Bush would have paid multiple visits but, lacking the
vision thing as well as any understanding of the common man, would probably
register low on the empathy gene scale.

Reagan: He'd know exactly what to do. He'd shed a tear or two, make us proud of
the relief workers and remind us that America's gotten through bigger crises in
the past. It would be one of his very, best roles.

Carter: Jimmy, Roslyn and Amy would not only be on-site full-time. They'd be
dressed in overalls and fully immersed in picking up debris and building protective
barrier reefs.

Ford: A genuinely good guy who had a degree of empathy. I think he'd say and do
the right thing.

Nixon: Forget it. A blue serge suit doesn't work well in those humid Gulf
temperatures. Plus Nixon would blame those nattering nabobs of negativity, the
press, for making a mountain out of a molehill.

LBJ: A Texas native and someone who looked like he was in constant pain, I
believe LBJ would have risen to the occasion and demonstrated the right
combination of empathy, sympathy and pathos.

JFK: He was all about his own image as The Cold Warrior. Displaying any sign of
weakness was a sure sign to the Soviets that JFK lacked the spine to fight a
nuclear war. No tears on the Gulf for this short-lived king of Camelot.

Ike: He was the guy who first warned us about the military-industrial complex
(think: Goldman Sachs and the Securities & Exchange Commission and BP and
MMS). Ike also managed the D-Day invasion. He'd find the fastest solution, but
he'd do so in a cold, dispassionate manner.

Comments? Issues? Top-kill alternatives?

6 thoughts on “The empathy gene

  1. While I appreciate your thoughts, Ann, I beg to differ. Obama’s colder than one of your Iowa winters. He’s analytical and political at a time when we need sensitivity and compassion. Methinks he listens too closely to the favorability polls and bases decisions on the way the wind blows instead of what his moral compass tells him. Obama may say he’d rather be a one-term president who makes the tough decisions, but all I see is vacillation and conciliation in the Gulf. One minute he’s with BP. The next, he’s distancing himself from them. Will the real Barack Obama please stand up? That is, if the muck and mire in the Gulf doesn’t physically prevent him from doing so.

  2. I don’t think Obama lacks the empathy gene. What he lacks is either a good communications director or the ability to listen to one. If he had both of those, he would understand the difference between showing he’s a good manager and showing he’s a good leader. Sometimes the latter means just being present, even when the people on the ground can do a heck of a lot more than you can. W, for all his faults that are too numerous to name here, understood that.

  3. Silent Cal certainly wasn’t in touch with his feminine side. But, Americans do want to know their president cares. That’s why we bought into the early W who promised to ‘smoke out’ bin Laden and declared ‘mission accomplished’ way too soon in Iraq. Alas, W had no clue what he was doing and, here we are, nine years later and still no closer to catching the mastermind of 9/11 or extricating ourselves from Iraq. I think there’s a happy medium between Clinton’s hysterics and Wilson’s/Obama’s aloofness. Winston Churchill had it all. Sadly, though, Churchill’s come around only every 500 years or so.

  4. Thank heaven we finally have a president with the authenticity not to go in for any Clinton-style mewling and puking. What is this obsession with wanting Kindergarten teacher presidents? It makes one yearn for silent Cal.

  5. Interesting thought, youngster. You’re right about WWII paranoia. One would guess popular opinion would hold the Nazi or Japanese governments responsible for the spill, thinking it was sabotage.

  6. Something tells me the Presidents that served during the Cold War would have been confronted with a public outcry accusing Communist sabotage instead of laying the blame at BP’s door. It could have developed into a latter day U.S.S. Maine situation. Empathy for the victims would have taken a backseat to the calls for revenge.