In an attempt to differentiate himself from the other “true, blue conservative” in the Republican primary race, for Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has chosen to criticize President Obama for every thing he does, even when it has nothing to do with policy. His latest salvo was a condemnation of the President’s words of condolence and empathy to the parents of Trayvon Martin. On Sean Hannity’s radio show on Friday, Gingrich commented on the President’s honest statement, empathetic statement that “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,”
Gingrich told Hannity’s audience, “What the President said, in a sense, is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban, or if he had been white, or if he had been Asian-American, or if he’d been a Native American. It is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
What I find appalling is that Gingrich so totally misrepresented what the President said, and the fact that he left out Hispanics, the fastest growing minority in America. Puerto Ricans and Cubans are from the Caribbean and neither group is profiled as illegals by those so inclined to ignore the fact that Mexico once owned the Southwest, and there are Hispanics (most of whom are all or part Native American) in the United States whose family trees go back dozens of generations on U. S. soil.
Later, in Kenner, Louisiana, Gingrich expanded on his theme of the president’s appalling behavior. “We have got to get beyond any sense of some American group being ‘the other.’ Every young American is endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And we have to, as a movement, the conservative movement, as a party, the Republican Party, has to be concerned about the quality of life and the sanctity of life of every American of every background. This is very, very important. And I think we have to recognize that all too often there are neighborhoods in which young people don’t have a chance to pursue happiness, they don’t have a decent future.”
That was pure, unadulterated Gingrich – don’t find out anything about the subject matter, don’t understand where and why this happened, just assume that it was some case of a black kid in a bad neighborhood so you can start in again on your idea that we should make kids from low income families scrub toilets at school for pin money and to teach them a “work ethic.”
Most of us understood what President Obama was saying, even when he didn’t go all the way to say it. “I can only imagine what these parents are going through. I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they have a right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
When addressing the attack on Sandra Fluke by Rush Limbaugh, the President said that he thought about his own daughters. In Trayvon Martin’s case, the President not only understood the situation from a parent’s perspective but as a black parent who was once a young black man, and one who has been the subject of some very heinous racism since he took office. He was able to connect to these two situations through the human mechanism of empathy. It’s more than just sympathy. It’s the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes.
One of the things that made Bill Clinton so popular was the feeling that he had walked in our shoes during his lifetime. His parents had divorced, he had seen spousal abuse, he understood the problems and hardships a family can endure. President Obama’s life has been different from Bill Clinton’s, and from nearly all Americans. But there are still things he can relate to and do so honestly – being the child of a single mother, being raised by grandparents, not really belonging anywhere and having every achievement and accomplishment credited to Affirmative Action instead of personal ability. Most of all, he can relate to loving one’s children more than anything in the world.
Some have accused the President of “pandering” for black votes with that “my son would have looked like Trayvon” remark. This wasn’t about votes or impressing a portion of the electorate. It was purely about saying “I understand your pain and know that only justice will ease it.” It is something every parent should understand.
But Newt Gingrich doesn’t understand empathy. He only understands panning for votes. Empathy is beyond his personal emotional range, so he interprets it the way he would see a similar remark from his own mouth and sees the President’s statement as a disgraceful attempt to divide the nation.
Do you know what they call a person who lacks empathy for others? A sociopath.