Long before Obama and the Sotomayor confirmation process elevated "empathy" to supreme importance, it held an honored place in the pantheon of liberal values.
That being the case, why is it liberals appear incapable of empathizing with those who don't share their politics?
Recent example: Princeton political science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell appearing on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show July 23 to talk about Obama saying at a press conference the night before that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. --
MADDOW: First of all, let me ask for your assessment of the president's comments last night on the Gates' arrest.HARRIS-LACEWELL: I think, you know, my greatest assessment here was, as soon as I heard it my heart sank only because I knew that that would become the news cycle rather than the conversation on health care which had been of course the whole hour before.
So here we have a press conference on health care and it becomes a conversation about the arrest of Professor Gates. Now I actually think it's worth talking about the arrest of Professor Gates. I think it's worth talking about what it means for racial politics in the United States and of how we've reacted to it, but I think I was most distressed simply that when the question was asked, almost regardless of the answer, I knew that that would become our new conversation, you know, sort of in place of the more relevant and, I think, you know, seriously important issues of health care.
Harris-Lacewell claimed "my heart sank only because I knew that that would become the news cycle" and elbow aside the debate on health reform. "Only"? How about the possibility that Obama maligned a decent cop who happens to be white? Or does the presumption of innocence apply to jihadists at Guantanamo but not first responders of pale skin hue in America?
And Sgt. James Crowley, we quickly learned, isn't just some cracker cop. Not only has he taught a racial profiling course at the police academy for five years, Crowley administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying and dark-skinned Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics (which a uniformed Archie Bunker would have somehow avoided).
Harris-Lacewell, apparently sensing her "only" claim was a stretch, amended it three sentences later when she said she was "most distressed" that "almost regardless" of what Obama said, "that would become our new conversation." Ah, so Harris-Lacewell's distress wasn't limited to health reform getting shunted aside.
Sure enough, when Harris-Lacewell parachuted back into the Maddow show the next night to talk again about l'affaire Gates (so much for health reform!) a revisionist Maddow tried to pass off Harris-Lacewell's remarks the night before as "essentially" the same as "Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart's hilarious criticism of Obama (second of two segments in embedded video) --
MADDOW: The controversial arrest was already a national story when President Obama was asked for his view of it at the very end of his prime-time press conference on Wednesday night.
OBAMA (from press conference): I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
MADDOW: Acted stupidly -- that line from the president turned what was already a big-deal story about race into a huge story about race and politics.
Maddow then showed a clip from previous evening's "Daily Show," with reporter Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asking Obama about Gates' arrest, followed by Obama's "acting stupidly" remark and Stewart's mock horror in response --
OBAMA: I think it's fair to say ...
STEWART (interrupting, manic): That it's a complicated issue! And I don't really have any comments at this time! Because I wasn't there! And I don't know all the facts!
OBAMA: ... the Cambridge police acted stupidly ...
STEWART (raising arms imploringly): F**k!!!HARRIS-LACEWELL (from previous night's show): As soon as I heard it, my heart sank only because I knew that that would become the news cycle, rather than the conversation on health care, which had been of course the whole hour before.
MADDOW (laughing): Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," showing why he is the most trusted newscaster in America. Our guest on this show last night, Princeton political science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, and on this show she described it essentially the same way, although with 100 percent fewer F-bombs.
That's odd, I don't recall Stewart mentioning health care ...
To his credit, Stewart actually criticized Obama; Harris-Lacewell did not. Instead, she morphed into the White House press flack, blithely asserting that "almost regardless" of what Obama said, controversy would ensue.
Really? If Obama said he knew little about Gates' arrest and would not comment until he learned more, next question please, that ratchets up the story? Only an ideologue with a tin ear believes this.
By Friday, the horse long gone from the burning barn, Obama made an unscheduled appearance at a White House press briefing and gamely sought to explain that his apology to Crowley in all but name was in no way, shape or form an apology. This necessitated Harris-Lacewell's second appearance on the Maddow show in as many days, to further clarify what Dear Leader was actually saying.
As for Obama's assertion that "any of us would be pretty angry," speak for yourself, Mr. President. Locking oneself out of a residence is hardly a rare occurrence. I doubt I'm the only person who upon deciding that "breaking in" was my only option wondered if a passerby would conclude a break-in was in progress. Do I become unhinged if a police officer shows up minutes later, demanding an ID? No, I thank her for helping keep my neighborhood safe.
By Tuesday night, with even Colin Powell on "Larry King Live" rebuking Gates, it was clear who was most at fault in the imbroglio. Racial profiling had indeed occurred at Gates' residence on July 16 -- but not by the cop.