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Empathy Bowl '08: Palin vs. Obama

I'm telling you, the big blog you want to start yesterday is Palinography. 24/7 on what she means, who she really is, and what we all want from her. (Yes, I know, someone already took the domain name Palinology, but they're not really doing anything with it.)

Every time I mention Sarah Palin--let alone devote a column to exploring what her supporters find so deeply appealing about her--the mail pours in by the hundreds. Most of it is vitriol and assurances that readers know who I'm really for and what I'm really against (the mail is running about 30 percent that I'm a secret agent for the Palin camp, 30 percent that I'm on the Obama payroll, 35 percent that I'm sickening proof that Washington and the media and the whole concept of knowledge need to be taken out to sea and blown sky high, and five percent really smart and piercing insights from people who just want to try to figure the whole thing out.)

A good number of readers picked up on the theory that I posited in last Thursday's column, that the Palin phenomenon is an expression of our pop culture's turn away from respect for knowledge and experience, toward a sense that people who have good values and try hard can succeed at almost anything. Reader George Cordell offers this argument:

Too much experience blinds you to other possibilities, and knowledge is, according to Karl Popper, a relative and changing thing. Maybe ignorance is the best alternative.... Perhaps what we need in this country is leaders who do not know how things are done by career politicians. Perhaps what we need is leaders who understand that they do not have the knowledge to lead. Our founding fathers, I think, were keenly aware of this when they drafted the constitution and limited the powers of the presidency. Sarah Palin may or may not be a good candidate for the VP job; the same can be said for Barack Obama and the presidency. But the fact that someone may not have the qualifications that the media thinks are important poses no limitation on the capability of the person. I do not want more of "experienced leadership" that considers itself wise enough to make decisions for me. I want principled people who understand their own limitations and, yes, their own ignorance.

Ok. But the note that I've been thinking about most came from Colleen Shogan, a research manager at the Congressional Research Service, who very presciently has been exploring the role empathy plays in presidential leadership. She presented her paper on that topic to the American Political Science Association in August, just days before Palin's selection, so there's nothing specifically on Palin, but she has a lot of good stuff to say about empathy from Lincoln to Bush to McCain and Obama:

Abraham Lincoln told of traveling down the Mississippi River in 1831 as a hired hand, Shogan writes. Arriving in New Orleans, he saw the cruelty of slavery for the first time. In an 1841 letter, Lincoln writes:

From Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were on board ten or a dozen slaves shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable.

Empathy, Shogan says, is a politician's path to discovering the "common good" that is supposed to be the goal of a leader's actions.As our political parties have diminished in authority and cohesion, the individual character of a presidential candidate has become ever more central to how voters make choices. She argues that Bill Clinton "may have overplayed his empathetic skill, George W. Bush is a telling example of leadership lacking in empathy, [and] in the middle, Abraham Lincoln is an example of a president who used his empathy to enhance his political leadership and decision-making."

Lincoln had the enormous advantage of being an extraordinarily skilled rhetorician and strategist who was also comfortable delving into philosophy and poetry. But Shogan argues that what sets him apart from all other presidents is what biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin terms Lincoln's "acute sensitivity to the pains and injustices he perceived in the world." Shogan quotes the daughter of Lincoln's private secretary, Helen Nicolay, who said that the president's "crowning gift of political diagnosis was due to his sympathy...which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do."

Shogan attributes this ability to Lincoln's own experience with a deep and painful melancholy. This being before the age of TV, Lincoln didn't exactly go around boasting of or laying out his depression for voters. But he made his humanity clear to those on both sides of the slavery debate, refraining from tagging slaveholders as immoral even as he made clear his profound identification with blacks' plight. "Lincoln's empathy enabled him to make a distinction between the individual and the institution," Shogan writes.

You can hear Obama harking back to Lincoln in his speeches that focus on how Americans today are not nearly as divided as we might think. This bit of Lincoln--speaking about Northerners and Southerners--ought to sound familiar to anyone who heard an Obama speech this spring: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."

Shogan brings us back to those defining moments when Bill Clinton demonstrated that he had enormously greater empathy than President George Bush (the father), such as the campaign debate in which Bush impatiently checked his watch and Clinton then stepped out from behind the lectern to connect with a woman who had asked how the candidates were personally hit by the growth of the national debt.

But how convincing, how genuine, how effective were the Clinton lip bite and voice quiver given what we later learned about his moral blindness and his inability to take political risks? Shogan concludes that Clinton "used his empathy as a political crutch, relying upon his 'I feel your pain' posture to compensate for his own personal and political failures."

At the other end of the spectrum, George W. Bush recoiled from Clinton's "ostentatious shows of sympathy" and steered clear of most public displays of emotion, even during weather disasters and other such events. After 9/11, he substituted tough talk for more vulnerable emotions--quite effectively at first--but when Hurricane Katrina hit, the absence of empathetic appearances by the president hit his popularity hard.

Shogan sees this year's matchup as a contrast between Obama's specific emphasis on empathy and McCain's apparent lack of interest in the idea. Obama has often spoken about what he calls an "empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in
someone else's shoes; to see the world through those who are different than
us - the child who's hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman
cleaning your dorm room..." But as much as he talks about empathy as the heart of his approach to politics, it's not clear how he would translate those ideas into action as president.

McCain, by contrast, has ranked far lower than Obama on polls asking voters to measure the candidates' ability to "understand the problems Americans face in their daily lives." But Shogan notes that McCain consistently scores higher on the "strong and decisive leader" question--an indication that eschewing public displays of empathy can help a candidate solidify his image as determined and confident.

Shogan--writing before the Palin choice--sums up this fall's contest like this:

If McCain can turn empathy into a characteristic that voters believe is diametrically opposed to decisiveness and strength, he could transform the "empathy gap" into a political liability for Obama. The challenge for Obama is to avoid sacrificing decisiveness for empathy. Obama must determine - perhaps using Lincoln as his guide - the correct complement of both attributes.

Add Palin's empathetic demeanor and the campaign's account of her life and you see the brilliance of McCain's choice--she complements him far more (at least emotionally) than Joe Biden complements Obama.

Will we therefore soon see a tougher and more demonstratively decisive Obama? So far, it doesn't look that way. But if he is to overcome the Republican combo, he will either have to toughen up his act, or find ways to demonstrate how the kind of empathy that makes voters believe substantive action will follow.

By Marc Fisher |  September 17, 2008; 8:07 AM ET
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"How have you personally been affected by the national debt" was one of the dumbest questions ever asked of a presidential candidate. The woman meant "the state of the economy", but was too ignorant to ask the question properly. Unfortunately for GHW Bush, it was his turn to go first, and his confusion at the woman's poorly-worded question helped further the notion that he was out of touch. Clinton got to go second, and was able to nail the whole empathy thing, which became a defining moment in the campaign. While he clearly had an advantage in this area to begin with, I've often wondered how that moment might have played out if Bush had gone second. Them's the breaks in politics, I guess.

Posted by: JJ | September 17, 2008 9:11 AM

Fisher, you make some decent points and offer a different way to look at the campaign circus, but you lost me when you referenced "Palin's empathetic demeanor" like anyone else is seeing it. She's snarky, evasive when asked questions, and lies constantly. She's almost Cheney in a dress...and Cheney was never preceived as empathetic. I'd never go hunting with her!

Posted by: Donny | September 17, 2008 9:16 AM

I have not found Palin empathetic. She speaks with a prewritten speech and not her own voice.
On top of it she keeps lying which to me shows a decided lack of respect for the voters and that she assumes the people are just that stupid.
That is not empathetic.
Pundits assume she is empathic because she comes from a small town.
Well, I have lived in small towns in the midwest and believe me, there are all kinds of people, just in smaller numbers and there are those who are snotty and vendictive and not very sympathetic.
Palin reminds me of a social climber who will stop at nothing, use whoever she can and step over whoever to achieve her ambition and not feel any guilt for those she used and hurt.
And they are usually very good at surface pleasantness.
At the same time, while the pundits say Obama is not empathetic because he doesn't act like Bill 2.0 and do that laughable 'I Fell your pain' thing (did anyone actually believe it when he was doing it in 92, as it was so over the top). But, they keep complaining that Obama needs to be just like Clinton.
I find that insulting.
Obama has always been known to connect with people and never was seen to have a problem connecting to them (why do you think tens of thousands come to see him for two years now)until the pundits decided that because he was not a bowler he was not regular folks little understanding that Obama is a reflection of his generation. Gen X was not known for it's love of bowling. But, his love of basketball does reflect the thinking of a true Gen. Xer and is seen as the new bowling for that generation.
I live in Illinois and when Obama was running in 04 for the senate he was seen by us who live in the smaller towns and more rural areas of the state as a good guy and a regular guy. He was seen as very nice and sympathetic and he has continued to be this way to this day.

Posted by: vwcat | September 17, 2008 10:17 AM

I would not call McCain’s choice in Palin as a running mate as "brilliance" but rather a desperate move. McCain continues to prove that he will do anything he can to win this election and everyone should be very mindful of him. Palin is nothing more than a front for his campaign.

Posted by: Cullen | September 17, 2008 10:18 AM

THIS IS A MUST READ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Sarah is NUTS! All you Palin McCain supporters - you better read this. Seems Sarah had a little help in run for governor. A Kenyan witch doctor came to her church and laid hands on her! She is a religious whacko.. Here is the link to the story and a bit of it..!

Palin linked electoral success to prayer of Kenyan witchhunter The pastor whose prayer Sarah Palin says helped her to become governor of Alaska founded his ministry with a witchhunt against a Kenyan woman who he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells. At a speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8 this year, Mrs Palin described how Thomas Muthee had laid his hands on her when he visited the church as a guest preacher in late 2005, prior to her successful gubernatorial bid. In video footage of the speech, she is seen saying: I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me.

Posted by: Snoop2 | September 17, 2008 10:29 AM

I'm compelled to agree that I do not see empathy in Palin. I have lived in many small towns, and the poster who wrote that small towns reflect all of humanity is correct. In small towns, more is known about each person, and it's harder to hide one's faults, but every type of human lives in those towns.

One of the most disquieting things about Palin, in my view, is the quick reply she gave to Charlie Gibson about not thinking for a moment about her decision to become McCain's running mate. Not for a second! I do not see this as a virtue. It seems to me that anyone would at least give such an enormous decision 24 hours' thought.

As for empathy, it's hard to know if she feels any. So far she has not been allowed to speak from her own mind. I hear no empathy in her canned speech--only --let's use Charlie's word: hubris.

Posted by: Emma | September 17, 2008 10:34 AM

"You'll recall that in her Republican convention speech, Palin burnished her budget-hawk credentials by claiming she had said "thanks but no thanks" to a congressional earmark that would have paid most of the cost. A quick check of the public record showed that Palin supported the bridge when she was running for governor, continued to support it once she took office and dropped her backing only after the project -- by then widely ridiculed as an example of pork-barrel spending -- was effectively dead on Capitol Hill.

In her interview with ABC's Charles Gibson, Palin 'fessed up. It was "not inappropriate" for a mayor or a governor to work with members of Congress to obtain federal money for infrastructure projects, she argued. "What I supported," she said, "was a link between a community and its airport."

Case closed. Except that on Saturday, days after the interview, Palin said this to a crowd in Nevada: "I told Congress thanks but no thanks to that Bridge to Nowhere-that if our state wanted to build that bridge, we would build it ourselves."

That's not just a lie, but an acknowledged lie. What she actually told Congress was more like, "Gimme the money for the bridge" -- and then later, after the whole thing had become an embarrassment, she didn't object to using the money for other projects.


Maybe Palin cynically believes she can keep using the "no thanks" line and manage to stay one step ahead of the truth police. Maybe she calculates that audiences would rather believe her than their lying eyes. Or maybe she really believes her own fantasy-based version of events. Maybe the Legend of Sarah Palin has become, on some level, more real to her than actual history.

And quite a legend it's turning out to be. The Washington Post reported Sunday that as mayor of tiny Wasilla, Palin pressured the town librarian to remove controversial books from the shelves, cut funds for the town museum but somehow found the money for a new deputy administrator slot, and told city employees not to talk to reporters.

And The New York Times reported Sunday that as governor, Palin appointed a high-school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to a $95,000-a-year job as head of the state Division of Agriculture. Havemeister "cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency," the Times reported, noting her as one of at least five schoolmates Palin has given high-paying state government jobs.

Nothing against cows. Nothing against high-school BFFs and being true to your school. But a different picture of Sarah Palin is beginning to emerge. The McCain campaign would like us to see a straight-talking, gun-toting, moose-eviscerating, lipstick-wearing frontierswoman. Instead, we're beginning to discern an ambitious, opportunistic politician who makes no bones about rewarding friends and punishing those who stand in her way-and who believes that truth is nothing more, and nothing less, than what she says it is. "

Published on Tuesday, September 16, 2008 by
Palin Keeps Lying, and Lying, and …

by Eugene Robinson

Posted by: Chris | September 17, 2008 10:38 AM

Democrats for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008

Posted by: Julie | September 17, 2008 11:19 AM

The Colleen Shogan paper sounds fascinating. I've been wanting to learn more about Lincoln, and her paper sounds like a good place to start. Do you have a title and/or a link for us?

Posted by: csdiego | September 17, 2008 11:23 AM

Palin is a huge enormous phony. McCains are just awful; every time McCain gets a tough question on the campaign trail, he resorts to playing the POW card and gets that soft voice and whining look in his eyes. The spectacle of the GOP convention was a sight for sore eyes. Repeated chants of "USA!USA!USA!" reminiscent of "Sig Heil!" and another era made viewers cringe with dismay - notably too at the lack of diversity reflected in the audience, and the nastiness of the speakers' comments against the rest of the USA they purportedly love....

I'm sick to death of all this parsing of the candidates' individual personality, empathy, decisiveness, judgment in military matters and other mostly off-issue nonsense. The main thing is to elect a team that will bring their best skills to the table and craft a path back up the long hill to economic stability (I won't even hope for prosperity) for the majority of American workers and people, and for restoration of our reputation in the world at large.

Generally speaking, you can be assured that someone of the intellectual caliber of Obama (like Clintons) will bring a lot of fresh, bold and actionable ideas and solutions to the fore. You can rest assured that electing someone with an excellent educational and governmental background will largely be a huge plus for us.

Bush Jr. had the right schools but not the right grades - nor did his adult life speak of any stellar accomplishments. The best thing mcCain has going for him, as far as I can tell, is his POW experience. But that won't guarantee a good president. His acamedic performance was abysmal. That is a leading indicator, as far as I'm concerned, that his performance as our President will be less than average.

McCain's politics, while certainly winning over some folks on the "entertainment factor", are ultimately detrimental to this country.

The GOP has been unravelling and has no new "blood" to offer us. It will be sad if they prevail this Fall. Very sad for the nation and for the world.

Posted by: TexMex | September 17, 2008 11:34 AM

I have to agree that I feel little connection to Palin. It's really surprising to me that so many people see her as like them because, to me, she is unappealing in both her persona and her policies and practices.

As a person, she seems cold and mean. After her convention speech, I read somewhere, "Bush has a smirk; Palin has a sneer." I thought that captured her stance toward her political opponents, esp. the statement re community organizers. There was no lightness to her speech--no sense that she was making fun of an honorable adversary.

The only thing I've heard her say that shows particular concern for people needs and problems was her statement re the parents of children w/ special needs having a friend in the White House. That's good, I guess, but it's a narrow issue, and she hasn't said anything to indicate that she really knows anything about the policy issues associated w/ caring for kids w/ special needs.

Since the convention, we've learned so many things, none of them good. In the Gibson interview, she revealed an unfortunate combination of ignorance and certainty. Do we need more of that?

Stories in the Post and the NYT show that her mayoralty and governorship have been characterized by secrecy and punitiveness.

And the sheer number of things she has lied about--and has continued to lie about after the falsehoods were pointed out--is amazing.

Ny disdain for her really is not about partisanship. I can't imagine defending her even if she were the veep nominee for my candidate.

I am going to be terribly disappointed in my fellow citizens if she and McCain are elected.

Posted by: THS | September 17, 2008 12:50 PM

District of Columbia MOMS

McCain/Palin- the only ticket 2008

Posted by: DCMOM | September 17, 2008 12:52 PM

Head of State

Friday, September 12, 2008

Second Time As Farce: How Palin is Exactly Like Bush, Part 2

From Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson:

Palin: "Our national leaders are sending them on a task that is from God"

Gibson: Are we fighting a holy war?

Palin: (looking strained, desperate, trapped): The reference there is from Abraham Lincoln who said "Never presume to know God's will..."

Robert Zimmerman: She failed to describe how a McCain/Palin foreign policy would differ from a Bush foreign policy

Gibson: Have you ever met a foreign head of state?

Palin: I have not, and I think that if you go back in history, and ask that question of many Vice Presidents they have the same answer that I just gave you

Anderson Cooper: Bay, ABC News just did a fact check. They looked back the last 30 years, all Vice Presidents have met a foreign leader. Does that matter?

Bay Buchanan: No, it doesn't at all. Her answer was excellent. It will make Americans feel that much closer to her. She's very real. Sure, she hasn't traveled overseas to meet these foreign leaders. But that's not what American's are looking for. She's absolutely correct. They want somebody that they can relate to. Who's hearing them. They're sick and tired of those people in Washington who may know lots of facts and figures and meet lots of people...

Zimmerman: It's always a danger when we have leaders who know facts and figures, Bay. That really does get in the way of setting up sound policies...My concern, Bay, is that when Sarah Palin says that she's not met foreign leaders like that's a good thing--We made that mistake eight years ago when George W. Bush was that likeable guy that you wanted to invite over for a barbeque.

Head of State

Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 12:53 PM

More came out about Palins affair today.

Trooper gate is unravelling

Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 12:57 PM

Here's a link to a clip of Obama talking to the staff at his headquarters in Chicago, just after the last primary in June. I was very taken w/ this film after I first saw it, and, having just watched it again, can say that it holds up.

What impressed me was the seriousness with which Obama spoke to the staff about needing to win because now they were the bearers of all the hopes of the people he had met during the primaries. He gave a real sense of the campaign being about a drive to change the country for the better, not just a drive to gain power.

Check it out.

Note that this is an excerpt of the whole talk that he gave that day, but this piece has the nub of it.

Posted by: THS | September 17, 2008 1:04 PM

Palin is a religious radical and has no place on the national stage. She works fine for most Alaskans, but seeing that Alaska has as many people in it as 1/4 of Brooklyn, I dispute that her popularity in that state should be any yardstick.
She is out of touch with issues outside of her state as any witness to her stump speeches or interviews show.

She is scary to a lot of Republicans out there.

Read what David Brooks had to say about her. Brooks, one of the lonely conservatives at the NYT.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 17, 2008 1:14 PM

View slideshow from Anti-Palin rally this Sunday in Anchorage, AK

go to:

Posted by: Mikeylikesit2 | September 17, 2008 1:14 PM

To your original point that American culture is turning away from respect for actual knowledge, experience and excellence (which is easily confused with elitism) and turning toward the wisdom of the "salt of the earth" ....the common man (or woman). From the very beginning of the American story this has been, not the myth, but the true reality of American achievement. From a printer's apprentice we come up with a Franklin. From a backwoods lawyer we find a Lincoln. Of course, we (America) also find a Washington and a Roosevelt from the ranks of our semi-aristocracy.

We have a culture which has always been torn between the "Grand Ole Opry" and the "Opera" Think of the movies---from "Mr Smith goes to Washington" to "Swing Vote" our popular culture has always celebrated the wisdom of the common.

Layer on top of that a more recent phenomenon---the idolization of the rebel, the outsider. That TRUTH is to be found in the outsider, the rebel, the criminal---Robin Hood, Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" ....Elvis, Allen Ginsberg, Keroac, Ken Kesey, the Hippies, Butch Cassidy....down to the culture of gansta rap. How often on TV do you see Cops as the vicious bad guys....or at best the morally confused, tired, ethically dirty last sentinel of some corrupted idea of goodness. On the other hand, how often do you see the the kind, caring, vessel of down to earth goodness. (Some people who ride Hogs and wear leather are really good guys, but some are not.)

To be bad has become cool.

To be an outsider has become cool.

Add in a dash of Marshall his day, voters knew Lincoln from his own words quoted extensively in newspapers (to those who don't know, newspapers were a kind of primitive internet. They were not interactive, mostly they did not have pictures, or only black and white pictures. They relied on printed words to communicate ideas and events.) So...the average American only knew Lincoln through his words. Today we know the candidates through carefully stage managed, visually crafted "video bites" In his day, it was considered a good thing that Lincoln could put together two or three sentences that made sense.....perhaps even a short address, carefully reasoned, elegantly spoken. Today it's "video bites". No time for reasoned eloquence....just "catch phrases" and "gotcha" moments.

So to bring this back to "American Idol--Election 2008"

Ms. Palin is "presented" as the outsider, the common woman, the soccer mom, the vessel carrying the wisdom of the average American. But the wisdom she carries is the rote doctrine of the Republican Party. How the party that has historically been the party of the affluent and the elite had become the party of small towns and common folk is a miracle of political alchemy. Unfortunately, the brand had changed, but the policies are the same.

Now, personally, I have great appreciation of genuine small town Republicans. The party of small business, individual freedom, up from your bootstraps self reliance and innovation. But, it seems to me that the policies of the current Republican Party are all shifted to the interests of the rich. Was the American Revolution fought and died for so that we could reduce the capitol gains tax?

So the New Republican Party of the rich and entitled has wrapped itself in the cloak of the outsider, the rebel, and the values of small towns.

Ms. Palin is the outsider, in the false media-enhanced meaning of the word. Smart, ambitious....the next Lincoln?

John McCain....where is he? Where is the "straight talk" ?

Mr. McCain, who I respect deeply, has lost his soul.

Posted by: JAMES CREIGHTON | September 17, 2008 2:50 PM

I don't know where all these "women for Palin" are coming from. If McCain becomes president, he has the opportunity to turn the Supreme court so far to the right, Roe v. Wade will most certainly be overturned. Decisions this past term have largely favored large corporations over middle income families. McCain will be president for a short time but the court he influences by his judgeship selections will be around for 50 years or more. (Hmmm, perhaps that is why that wealthy Hillary supporter is supporting McCain? Feathering her nest?)

Posted by: R. Boshkoff | September 17, 2008 4:32 PM

When a significant hurricane is imminent, the number one reason residents give when asked why they are not evacuating is their faith that God will take care of them (like wind and rising water don't matter). Palin supports teaching intelligent design alongside the scientific theory of evolution in schools. How confusing for young minds! We have students believing that God created people in his own image when all the evidence points to our evolving from apes. The older generation may have been hoodwinked into believing the unproven fantasy of creationism, but today's generation can find out the truth in 20 minutes (by properly researching on the internet). It's time for religious leaders to give up the hoax and to stop corrupting the next generation. It is frightening to think that someone (Palin), who does not make a distinction between fantasy and reality, could be elected to any position in our government. Wake up, America!

Posted by: don r | September 17, 2008 8:11 PM

This is an interesting article/way of viewing candidates. So is the level of psychopathy and narcissism each candidate possesses interesting to think about. Psychopaths make great leaders, it is said, in that they do lack empathy for others and can stand apart observing quite easily rather than becoming involved on many levels. What kind of person runs for president without experience? Where does one actually get that experience and is it necessary; but, for instance, why does Sarah Palin believe she is actually capable of running the country and all else at the same time? What kind of thinking, truly, is that/what kind of person is that - ref. her and all other candidates. Are they actually that capable or just psychopaths pretending to be empathetic and much else. Why do these candidates need so much attention in life? How self absorbed are they when assessed? Why does McCain have such temper tantrums when he doesn't like a question? Where are the psychological assessments of candidates, but who would be qualified, really, to actually know what truly is what. One must be careful who has power over one, in many ways - and would a psychopath not be able to con all around and smooth his or her way out of all kinds of situations anyway, being charismatic as is often the case. The trying to get out of a tricky situation in Alaska/not have to testify ref. Palin - is that psychopathic narcissistic thinking or just the knowledge that she has power of psychopaths and manipulators behind her/with her? I don't know what to think of Obama - seemingly genuinely aware, kind, and committed to moving the country forwarded - although if I go back to how he got rid of his competitors when elected for the Senate one has a different view - or is that life/focus/goal setting and carry through et. al. In any case, interesting stuff - and the public/voters would do well to remember that psychopaths make great con men and women and can fake empathy when required as they have observed the reaction/how the public laps it up and how they use it to best effect. Ref. McCain - exactly how much of his mind and character is shaped by military thought - and related behaviour such as entitlement for suffering for so long when, really, perhaps he isn't really all that entitled at all beyond a certain point. How accountable do narcissistic and/or psychopathic people feel they are or would be? Above the rule of law? Perhaps Calvinists, also, at heart, where they believe they are destined to lead because of God which is what kind of thinking? Rational to many, but delusional and frightening to others. So many possibilities ref. people's minds!

Posted by: Andy | September 18, 2008 3:57 AM

It seems as though the empathy is flowing only from voters to Palin, and that voters are beginning to realize that Palin doesn't necessarily empathize with them. Not that she'll become unpopular, but the fizz her candidacy provided earlier may be flattening. Just a thought.

Posted by: Lindemann | September 18, 2008 11:43 AM

Wow. The Obama liars are out in force today.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 18, 2008 11:48 AM

Ok Marc, you are a supposed to be a local columnist, but you want in on the national cut. I'll bite.

Interesting entry. I wanna go back and really take it in.

What’s so funny is that people expect people from the Rudest Town on Earth (Washington of course!) to spend years and years here then go out and charm the pants off people who still have an outside shot at actually being charming themselves! Ain’t gonna happen, unless that particular Washingtonian has been living in a bubble forever.

I think the other component is instantaneous-ness. Look at Reagan, he was certainly no overnight star a la Palin. He put in years and years of real work, outside of Washington, to be sure. And even when he thought he was ready, he was not. I bring him up because I think the affection and passion for him and for Palin are (at the present moment) about equal, and one of the key differences is that Reagan put in so much more time.

Posted by: Terry | September 18, 2008 8:37 PM

"But how convincing, how genuine, how effective were the Clinton lip bite and voice quiver given what we later learned about his moral blindness and his inability to take political risks?"


You are seriously still asking if Bill Clinton was a genuine politician?? Are you kidding me? Of all the people in our country, he all but stands alone in being the one who was truly born to be president. The man can literally think of nothing else. He would have been a benign dictator in any other country. Look at him! He still has the energy and the desire.

What made (and makes) Pres Clinton so everloving compelling, Marc, is that he IS GENUINE in his convictions. He delights in the detail of the job, and what's more (much much more) made others want to listen to him TALK about those details. (Sorry to say this, but - DUH)

Here is where I will agree with you:
"But as much as [Obama] talks about empathy as the heart of his approach to politics, it's not clear how he would translate those ideas into action as president. RIGHT

Add Palin's empathetic demeanor and the campaign's account of her life and you see the brilliance of McCain's choice--

oh, now it was a brilliant choice? Ok. Two weeks ago, it was much too soon for you to tell.

McCain's a fossil. It's all about Palin.

Posted by: Terry | September 18, 2008 8:52 PM

Last one...

Bill Clinton was the perfect combo, he could be real because he was real. AND, he was an intellectual who could get stuff done.

When you wrote that judgmental part about Clinton, I'm sorry, but I just see your OWN ambivalence coming into play, as opposed to any well-thought out something or other on his style. I wish you and others would just deal with it, and not mix it into his presidency and all that. You just can't contain someone with that much God given charisma. The fact is, something like a quarter to half of all people cheat. And what is more "of the people" than gettin a bj in the office?

I really don't want to make light of it, but I also think that this must be partly a male thing. I sense that a lot of males are po’ed that THEY have been tempted, but unlike Pres Clinton, THEY did not succumb. So they pour scorn on him.

Posted by: Terry | September 18, 2008 9:25 PM

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