Empathy Does Not Cut It

Empathy is not going to cut it, nor should it.  Not in these uncertain times.  Hell, EVERY era is uncertain.  Such is life.  President Obama’s plea that “I feel your pain” has about as much meaning to the unemployed and uninsured as does their understanding of what it like to be the President.

The nature of the position demands that our President be safe and sound in the White House.  Quite frankly, after hearing accusations of a royal White House, I offer this: I would rather see a President treated like royalty and be alive, than a dead, man-of-the-people.  Furthermore, Barack Obama made his fortune before he ever became President.  He is an accomplished, best-selling author.  There is no use trying to hide the facts.  It appears I am one of the few who do not condemn him for his financial success.  My theory has always been that if you work for it, you deserve it.  But the level of dissatisfaction is so high in America today, that practice is no longer acceptable.

Well folks, I do believe that the top earners should no longer receive the Bush tax cuts.  Part of the responsibility of those who are better off is to assume a higher tax burden.  With success comes a wider responsibility.  Shoot: even Bill Gates believes that the wealthy should pay more taxes.  As long as that monetary success was honestly worked for though, criticism across the board is uncalled for.  The gap between the classes is growing even larger.  This is not only so with regard to earning ability, but worse, the abyss between the haves and have-nots in terms of net worth is way out of whack.

I, for one, although definitely not ungrateful or unappreciative, was downright embarrassed by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the Newark public schools.  Here we are, a country of untold riches, and our individual billionaires are now assuming responsibility for our education for the people.  The GOP consider billionaires to be our “small businesses”, and thus, that is the rationale behind them maintaining the Bush tax cuts.

Job availability helps, as does a decent wage.  But so does a mind-set that requires saving and above all, much less spending.  Americans need to rely on themselves more, and less on the hope that government will save them.  I give you an example in point.  Millions of homeowners are under water with their mortgages, i.e. they owe more on their home loans than their houses are worth.  This could be due to a number of factors, such as adjustable rate mortgages that were very attractive for about the first five years of ownership but then their rates soared so high as to make it untenable for the homeowner to make monthly payments.  Another factor is that as the housing bubble increased, homeowners kept taking out equity, never considering that the bubble might burst.  Even though our houses have been our best investments over the last 40 or so years, there was never any guarantee that home prices would always go up.  How could all these borrowers have contemplated that the party would never end?

Applicable to the upcoming midterm elections, this worries me.  Extreme right-wing candidates such as Christine O’Donnell, never had a traditional work life.  She used campaign funds to pay her rent and other personal expenses.  To top it off, she is now praising that strategy because she “never took a hand out from the government.”  Sweetheart Chrissie: you stole from the PEOPLE.  But her stance strikes home with her supporters, because it puts her in the same miserable financial straits as them.  The slogan of the GOP and Tea Party should be “Misery Loves Company”, even if it is just a ploy to get the electorate to identify with the GOP and get back in power.  Empathy is being used by our politicians for illegal and dishonest aims.

This is why I couldn’t give a hoot for President Obama’s empathy.  The consensus on his falling popularity is that his messaging is off, out of touch with regular Americans.  I say “Hogwash.”  I voted for him because of his intellect, unemotional demeanor and long-term agenda.  Yeah, that’s right: long-term.  Maybe God created the earth in a week.  President Obama’s going to need a hell of a lot more time to not only right all the travesties that came before him, but also to affect major changes in policy for a constantly evolving America who has ignored some dire situations for decades.  We are not the same country we were 50 years ago.  Thus, a huge overhaul is mandatory to meet those challenges.  And America thinks this should have happened all within the first eighteen months of Obama’s tenure.

Is this a great country, or what?  How optimistic are Americans when they want what they want now?  Unfortunately, Americans are also very gullible.  They are falling for the GOP’s claims that all Americans will be uplifted by their “new” agenda.  There is nothing new about their latest pledge and it will certainly not elevate the bulk of Americans to the desired levels of financial security.  Only well-paying jobs, hard work and personal responsibility can accomplish that.  It is so much easier though for Americans to fall prey to this line of thinking that supposedly would include them in the elite, blue blooded aura of the GOP.  Have any of these GOP wannabes studied the history of the Republican party, their platforms, their policies and the results of their elitistism?  When it is convenient for them, the American electorate will sell themselves to the highest bidder, no matter how false their premise may be.

I am with President Obama now more than ever.  I do understand the frustration and impatience with him, but he is, by far, the best we have, and that is pretty damn good.  In order to create the jobs we need, new industries that cater to our new needs must be developed, such as alternative energy, an effective education system, a plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and a cost-efficient, viable health care organization.  We cannot sacrifice meeting these new needs by spouting old ideologies, by avoiding innovation.  Despite the fact that change  is very capital-intensive, now more than ever we need to revamp our country, and if done wisely, the jobs will follow.  A greater share of the tax burden must come from those that make more, and that will be the one biggest way to stem government borrowing.  Investing in our future is our only salvation.  That investment includes major spending first and foremost. The single most effective method to raising that money without borrowing from the government is to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

So empathy is one consideration, but empathy is useless unless it is backed up with realism and common sense.  Americans need to protect themselves from the dribble of the GOP and the Tea Party who applaud less government intervention while supporting huge tax cuts for the wealthy, clearly two policies that are totally at odds with each other.  No amount of empathy can erase that fallacy and no amount of empathy can serve as a true safety net.  Empathy does have its place in public policy but in the end, empathy is just the icing on the cake.  Empathy will not pay the bills.  It is a political tactic with very little real effect on what ails us.

An ample dose of realism coupled with foresight and patience will go a lot farther in correcting our nation’s path and meeting our needs than  empty promises and hand-holding empathy.  The choices are hard ones; change does not happen over night nor does it come cheap.  President Obama knows this.  He speaks the truth.  The United States needs huge investments in itself and the bulk of the costs should be covered by taxes on those that own the bulk of the wealth.  Can we handle the truth, or shall we continue to fall victim to the outright lies that are being handed to the middle class so that their votes can keep the top 2% of earners at the top of their game and the politicians in their own elected, cash cow ivory towers?

Empathy is not the solution to our woes or the President’s falling numbers.  The Democrats have to admit and embrace the underlying uncertainty that pervades every aspect of life.  Then, with specific plans they must go after the solutions.  The picture, the vast amount of changes that are called for, is not pretty.  This is no excuse to ignore our needs and retain the policies of the last 4o years that really have lost much of their relevance.

Empathy is a feel-good tactic; it will not alter our circumstances.  Uncertainty will always be with us.  Our choice is to either ignore it or deal with it.  President Obama is trying to teach us to confront uncertainty, while still maintaining a positive outlook.  Impossible?  Not if we are all on the same page.  Yeah, like that will happen.

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