The Left’s So-Called Empathy
Lest you doubt that we’re headed for the most vicious election year in memory, consider the determined effort, within ten minutes of his triumph in Iowa, to weirdify Rick Santorum. Discussing the surging senator on Fox News, Alan Colmes mused on some of the “crazy things” he’s said and done.
Santorum has certainly said and done many crazy things, as have most members of America’s political class, but the “crazy thing” Colmes chose to focus on was Santorum’s “taking his two-hour-old baby when it died right after childbirth home,” whereupon he “played with it.”
My National Review colleague Rich Lowry rightly slapped down Alan on air, and Colmes subsequently apologized, though not before Mrs. Santorum had been reduced to tears by his remarks. Undeterred, Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post columnist, doubled down on stupid and insisted that Deadbabygate demonstrated how Santorum is “not a little weird, he’s really weird.”
The short life of Gabriel Santorum would seem a curious priority for political discourse at a time when the Brokest Nation in History is hurtling toward its rendezvous with destiny. But needs must, and victory by any means necessary. In 2008, the Left gleefully mocked Sarah Palin’s live baby. It was only a matter of time before they moved on to a dead one.
Not many of us will ever know what it’s like to have a child who lives only a few hours. That alone should occasion a certain modesty about presuming to know what are “weird” and unweird reactions to such an event.
In 1996, the Santorums were told during the pregnancy that their baby had a fatal birth defect and would not survive more than a few hours outside the womb. So Gabriel was born, his parents bundled him, and held him, and baptized him. And two hours later he died. They decided to take his body back to the home he would never know. Weirdly enough, this crazy weird behavior is in line with the advice of the American Pregnancy Association, which says that “it is important for your family members to spend time with the baby” and “help them come to terms with their loss.”
Would I do it? Dunno. Hope I never have to find out. Many years ago, a friend of mine discovered in the final hours of labor that her child was dead but that she would still have to deliver him. I went round to visit her shortly after, not relishing the prospect but feeling that it was one of those things one was bound to do. I ditched the baby gift I’d bought a few days earlier but kept the flowers and chocolate. My friend had photographs of the dead newborn. What do you say? Oh, he’s got your face?
I was a callow pup in my early twenties, with no paternal instincts and no great empathetic capacity. But I understood that I was in the presence of someone who had undergone a profound and harrowing experience, one which it would be insanely arrogant for those of us not so ill-starred to judge. There but for the grace of God go I, as we used to say.
There is something telling about what Peter Wehner at Commentary rightly called the “casual cruelty” of Eugene Robinson. The Left endlessly trumpets its “empathy.” President Obama, for example, has said that what he looks for in his judges is “the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.” As he told his pro-abortion pals at Planned Parenthood, “we need somebody who’s got the heart — the empathy — to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom.” Empathy, empathy, empathy: You barely heard the word outside clinical circles until the liberals decided it was one of those accessories no self-proclaimed caring progressive should be without.
Indeed, flaunting their empathy is what got Eugene Robinson and many others their Pulitzers — Robinson describes his newspaper column as “a license to feel.” Yet he’s entirely incapable of imagining how it must feel for a parent to experience within the same day both new life and death — or even to understand that the inability to imagine being in that situation ought to prompt a little circumspection.
The Left’s much-vaunted powers of empathy routinely fail when confronted by those who do not agree with them politically. Rick Santorum’s conservatism is not particularly to my taste (alas, for us genuine right-wing crazies, it’s that kind of year), and I can well see why fair-minded people would have differences with him on a host of issues from spending to homosexuality. But you could have said the same thing four years ago about Sarah Palin — and instead the Left, especially the so-called feminist Left, found it easier to mock her gleefully for the soi-disant retard kid and her fecundity in general. The usual rap against the Right is that they’re hypocrites — they vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, and next thing you know they’re playing footsie across the stall divider with an undercover cop at the airport men’s room. But Rick Santorum lives his values, and that seems to bother the Left even more.
Never mind the dead kid, he has six living kids. How crazy freaky weird is that?
This crazy freaky weird: All those self-evidently ludicrous risible surplus members of the Santorum litter are going to be paying the Social Security and Medicare of all you normal well-adjusted Boomer yuppies who had one designer kid at 39. So, if it helps make it easier to “empathize,” look on them as sacrificial virgins to hurl into the bottomless pit of Big Government debt.
Two weeks ago I wrote in this space: “A nation, a society, a community is a compact between past, present, and future.” Whatever my disagreements with Santorum on his “compassionate conservatism,” he gets that. He understands that our fiscal bankruptcy is a symptom rather than the cause.
The real wickedness of Big Government is that it debauches not merely a nation’s finances but ultimately its human capital — or, as he puts it, you cannot have a strong economy without strong families. Santorum’s respect for all life, including even the smallest bleakest meanest two-hour life, speaks well for him, especially in comparison with his fellow Pennsylvanian, the accused mass murderer Kermit Gosnell, an industrial-scale abortionist at a Philadelphia charnel house who plunged scissors into the spinal cords of healthy delivered babies. Few of Gosnell’s employees seemed to find anything “weird” about that: Indeed, they helped him out by tossing their remains in jars and bags piled up in freezers and cupboards. Much less crazy than taking ’em home and holding a funeral, right?
Albeit less dramatically than “Doctor” Gosnell, much of the developed world has ruptured the compact between past, present, and future. A spendthrift life of self-gratification is one thing. A spendthrift life paid for by burdening insufficient numbers of children and grandchildren with crippling debt they can never pay off is utterly contemptible. And to too many of America’s politico-media establishment it’s not in the least bit “weird.”
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn