When we hear the whistle of a distant siren or a see a flash of red zoom through our periphery, each of us knows what to do. It doesn’t matter how long ago we were supposed to be at that meeting. It doesn’t matter how desperately we needed to make it through that light. In that critical moment – the moment in which someone is in dire need – we transcend our sectionalized society and create a cohesive, automotive exodus.
The siren makes us human. It momentarily levels the playing field. A billionaire in a Bentley is on the same mental wavelength as a low-income gardener in a beaten down pickup truck. Class is rendered obsolete, race becomes trivial, and when that emergency vehicle whirls by, something clicks in the American psyche: a shared interest in each others’ well being. If I were in that ambulance, or if my house was burning down, we think to ourselves, I’d sure as hell want traffic to come to a halt.
And that’s why I think Democrats are wrong about Republicans and Republicans don’t have their priorities straight.
We liberals hurl all sorts of vitriolic accusations at the GOP — they don’t care about the little people, we say. They’re only looking out for themselves. And, yes, it looks that way from the outside. But a dominant pillar that carries much of the modern Republican platform is an oft-skewed hodgepodge of “American values” — the things that make Americans American; the flavors in the melting pot.
What are the quintessential American values? Mitt Romney would tell you that competition — economic opportunity — tops the list. He’d cite the “American Dream” and the hope of attaining a better life than one’s parents, the potential to ascend the ranks and make something from nothing.
Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express might say that the traditional “family” supersedes all values. The “sanctity of marriage,” they would explain, that “eternal institution between a man and a woman.”
It’s important to note, of course, that some values are more deeply rooted in specific regions of the country. Proponents of conservative macrocosmic economic values might make more noise around Wall Street than in East Los Angeles. “Family” values would surely carry more weight in red-coated areas like Arkansas and Mississippi than they would in Massachusetts.
But in their heady convolution and “ethical” assertions, Republicans seemed to have lost their identity; they’ve misplaced that famous moral compass of theirs. And here’s why Republicans have some soul searching to do: they’ve forgotten a key value.
Empathy, the idea of associating with another’s hardship and coming to their aid — a value that is put to the test each and every day on the streets of cities and towns nationwide — is an American value. The New Deal was an empathetic institution. The Civil Rights Act was steeped in empathy. (And, for the record, the Bible — from which Republicans derive so many of their values — commands each family to give a tithe, a tenth of its income as a tax.) The unique aptitude of Americans to sympathize, to momentarily and hypothetically walk in someone else’s shoes, stems not from partisan debate, but purely from human instinct.
Perhaps Republicans have a of “tough-guy” complex of sorts; something compels them try to paint themselves as living a more distant and apathetic existence than they actually do. When humanity becomes a factor in the equation of values, life transcends the petty arguments.
Republicans believe in American values. Empathy is an American value. Therefore Republicans believe in empathy.
Republicans believe in empathy. It is empathetic to care for those who are in need, those who cannot afford to pay major taxes. It is empathetic to extend unemployment benefits to those who are unemployed during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is empathetic to give a portion of one’s own share to make sure that someone else can buy another loaf of bread, have another week to find a job, live another day.
When the road moves again and the piercing screech of the siren dwindles, we know that we are cared for. We know that we’re not alone. It’s a matter of putting two and two together.
Republicans are inherently empathetic. I just wish they knew that.