Plain Speaking, Politics

Joe Biden and “The Empathy Thing”

I highly recommend Monica Crowley’s excellent January 25 New York Post article on Joe Biden’s deceptive and illusory “kindly uncle routine.”  Although it focuses on Biden’s recent series of vulgar and petty attacks on members of the press, it reinforces and confirms everything I wrote here about him several months ago.  So I’m re-posting my own take on Biden’s behavior now:

I just typed four words into Google:  “joe biden president empathic.”  Here are the top hits:

  1. Biden may be just the person America needs -In the entire history of American presidential campaigns, there may never have been a wider gap in empathy than between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. November 2020.
  2. US Election: For Joe Biden, Empathy Wins the Presidency-DW. January 2020
  3. Biden’s empathy could reshape U.S. attitudes about gender. July 2021
  4. How Empathy Defines Joe Biden – August 2020
  5. Joe Biden’s Empathy Offensive. June 2020
  6. Joe Biden: An Empathetic Leader Whose Time Has Come. November 2020
  7. “Empathy Matters”: Joe Biden endorsers highlight the same trait. April 2020
  8. Joe Biden’s empathy may result in a ‘therapeutic’ foreign policy. November 2020
  9. Biden’s first address to the nation: Truth, empathy, and results. March 2021

It’s absolutely sick-making.  You may try the same experiment if you like, and see what you get in return.

I’ve never seen it myself.  The glad-handing, the rictus grin, the hair-sniffing and groping of young children, the weird–almost perverse–stories he tells about himself: I’ve been creeped out by all those things for decades.  Then there’s the lying.  About his education, his academic achievements, his wife’s tragic car accident (good old empathetic Joe; ruining a man’s life by falsely accusing him of driving while intoxicated and causing the crash that killed his wife and daughter), his plagiarism, his positions on a half-a-century worth of failed domestic and foreign policy initiatives.  And what was it the other day–oh, right.  His time was spent driving an eighteen-wheeler around the country.

I’ve known a few mountebanks in my life.  But Joe Biden may just take the cake.

But.  The Empathy Thing.

Somehow (well, not really somehow–actually through a carefully-crafted and controlled media blitz, decades in the making and still ongoing) the empathy thing has stuck to Joe Biden like flypaper.  He’s had so much personal tragedy.  His wife died.  His daughter died.  His son fought in Iraq, suffered from cancer, and died.  Another son is a complete train wreck.  He’s had a life-threatening aneurysm (two actually) requiring brain surgery, and a pulmonary embolism.  No one has ever borne as much suffering with as much grace as Joe Biden! He’s Everyman!  He gets us.  He feels our pain. He loves us.  Never mind if he’s creepily handsy, tells the guy in a wheelchair to stand up and take a bow, can’t remember the name of the woman who’s running the FEMA effort in New York, thinks his Vice-President is some sort of General, or often seems to occupy an alternate reality inside his own headspace–he’s just a regular guy with problems, like you and me, he cries for us, and he cares!

I suppose, just like pride, such gullibility goeth before a fall, and this week, the chattering classes fell.  Joe’s grandfatherly forays (four so far?) before the cameras to explain himself vis-a-vis the catastrophe in Kabul have been spectacularly unconvincing (if the point of them was to convince us that the people running the operation at the highest level are anything other than incompetent boobs.  That they are incompetent boobs, and that the incompetent boobery goes all the way to the top, comes across loud and clear.)

But what has really shocked (shocked) the chatterati has been Biden’s lack of empathic affect at the human toll of this debacle, or even at the evidently dangerous circumstances, the swift withdrawal has created for Americans still in Afghanistan.  Reminded by George Stephanopolous that desperate Afghans were clinging to planes and falling off them from hundreds of feet up in the air to their deaths, Biden snapped “that was four, five, days ago!” (Actually, at the time he said that, it was two days ago.  But who’s counting?  And why? Is there some sort of statute of limitations on that sort of horror?) All this chaos?  Unavoidable.  Would have happened no matter what. Couldn’t have been handled better. Americans who want to leave?  All they have to do is get to the airport.  No one is preventing them getting to the airport.  The Taliban is keeping its word.  (Meanwhile, American citizens have been told not to go to the Kabul airport unless individually instructed to so because such a journey is unsafe.)  When asked about the chaos and desperation at the airport, Biden responded “But nobody’s died!  Nobody’s died!” (That was then.  This is now.) [January 2022 update: TBC, the recently referenced “now,” has, itself, become “then.” Only a week after that Reuters article appeared, thirteen US servicemen and women died in the deadliest day for the country’s armed forces in over a decade.]

Today (Sunday 8/23), Biden did manage to enunciate the word “heartbreaking,” when it appeared before him on the teleprompter, but as with his other appearances, his affect was flat and disengaged relative to the horror he’s reporting on, and he regularly stumbled and, several times, got completely lost.

And so now we have (for starters):

  1. Biden Ran on Competence and Empathy.  Afghanistan is Testing That.  The New York Times
  2. President Biden Calls Past Week “Heartbreaking,” in Redo, With Empathy. Deadline
  3. Empathizer-in-Chief exposed as a lie. New York Post
  4. Biden, who promised empathy in 2020, blasted for abandoning Americans overseas. Fox.

So what’s going on here?

Type two more words into Google: “empathy dementia.”  Here we go:

  1. How to handle a lack of empathy in dementia patients.
  2. Why there is a lack of empathy within people with dementia.
  3. Emotion detection deficits and decreased empathy in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease
  4. Study shows why some dementia patients lack empathy
  5. Imaging helps understand empathy loss in dementia
  6. The study reveals the underlying cause of empathy loss.

And so on.

I didn’t really need to do the last Google search, because, like so many others, I’ve lived alongside it.  I’ve watched more than one person in my life fade away as their world closes in until there is nothing of themselves left, and they have no more awareness of a life beyond their own basic needs than does a day-old infant.  And then, one day, not even that. And along the way, as part of the continuum of cognitive decline, the ability to appreciate, respond to, or even simply just recognize the emotions of others, or to respond in an emotionally appropriate, or even vaguely kind, way, declines along with everything else.  I am sure it’s pure torture to experience it on the inside.  I know it’s pure torture to experience the fallout from it as the “other.”

I fear there is something very, very wrong going on here.  And today, when I see that the Telegraph (not normally  a “Boy Eats Own Foot!!!” sort of shrieking tabloid, and usually a fairly reliable news source) has a lengthy article titled Joe Biden’s aides ‘too afraid’ to tell him he was wrong on Afghanistan, say White House Insiders I worry a little:

President Joe Biden’s aides were “too scared” to question him on key decisions made in the run-up to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, sources close to the administration have told The Telegraph.

Mr Biden, who is facing the greatest crisis of his presidency, is said to have insisted on recalling troops ahead of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and ignored warnings that it would not leave the military with enough time to get US citizens and allies out.

Speaking to people close to the administration, The Telegraph has managed to build a picture of a stubborn-headed and defensive president continuing to tout his foreign policy nous, and a staff too afraid to question him.

One former defence official, who is in regular contact with senior White House aides, suggested that there was not much pushback from concerned officials because they were “too afraid”.

I don’t think this can go on much longer.  I’m not sure what comes next.  But I don’t think it’s going to be either easy or pretty.  And as much as I loathe just about everything Joe Biden represents, I’m not going to enjoy it much.

1 thought on “Joe Biden and “The Empathy Thing””

  1. There are, at last (January 26, 2022), a few mainstream journalists who’re somehow managing to plumb the depths of the “real” Joe Biden. The Telegraph’s Madeleine Grant is such a one.

    But just look at the headline, and her premise: “The Truth about Joe Biden can no longer be ignored; Incompetent, divisive, and testy, everything we were told about the president has turned out to be wrong.”

    Madeleine. Dear. You need to get out more. The truth has been there, and people have been “telling” it for all to see since the start of Joe Biden’s political career, fifty years ago. If you’d clean out your ears and start listening the the people who’ve been telling it; if your profession would stop suppressing the evidence that proves his grift, graft, his nasty disposition, and unfitness for office on the grounds that to tell the truth might somehow align you with Trump and the deplorable people who voted for him, and if you’d stop holing up in your little echo chambers lying and talking only to each other and open your eyes, you might have figured it out sooner. Better late than never, I suppose.

    “The crumbling of Biden’s once-convivial facade is a particular surprise, marking, as it does, the destruction of one of the President’s few remaining virtues. In his inaugural address, he pledged to heal a bitterly-divided country – vowing to “end this uncivil war which pits reds against blue, promising “decency, honour, respect, treating people with dignity.” This was the kindly grandfather who would unite a nation with a new brand of grown-up, moderate politics – and restore America’s reputation after the chaos of the Trump years. The last year has certainly disabused voters of that fond vision.”

    You may be gobsmacked yourself to see your dreams crumble but we are not.

    Welcome to the real world, darlin.’

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