There are times in a person’s life when an epiphany occurs that changes the way one thinks about events or even life itself. I had such an occurrence in the summer of 2015, which revamped my thinking on all sorts of issues.
It occurred over dinner with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, currently head of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M. The Ambassador was in Des Moines to speak to the Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations of which I was chairman at the time (now Emeritus).
The Ambassador’s Foreign Service career stretched over 37 years. During that period he was Ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and lastly, Afghanistan. Through four different presidents, Ambassador Crocker was the “go to” diplomat when things got tough.
Over dinner while in Des Moines, I asked him, “what is the most important thing a person dealing in tough situations, with friends and adversaries alike, needs in their toolbox?”
His answer was immediate and unequivocal. Empathy. He went on to explain that empathy is sometimes meant to imply sympathy and that is a misconception. Empathy is the concept of truly understanding where the other person is coming from and why. One example is the Iranian nuclear negotiations, where a deep understanding of Iranian history is absolutely necessary to understanding them. As a subsection of that understanding when we think, “Why don’t they trust us?” remember that in 1951 the Shah was overthrown with help from CIA. Their view of history is that 1951 is practically yesterday and therefore it is difficult to trust the US.
So, what does Ambassador Crocker’s view of empathy tell us about the current political environment and how should the Democrats use it?
Just about every morning, TV news programming has Republican apologists on to poo-pooh the comments the President tweeted during the night. We need to have empathy for them as they hand-wring about his usually inappropriate, sometimes scary remarks. Again, we are not agreeing with them, just working to understand them. The more we understand them, the better our strategies will become.
Given the current political environment and the strange results of the last election, what happens next is anyone’s guess, however, I am more of a traditional thinker and believe it is almost impossible for the Democrats not to make major gains in the next few election cycles. There is just too much going wrong inside the Republican Party for that not to happen, except for one little issue, and that issue requires empathy by everyone within the Democrat party.
In my view, it is absolutely imperative that there be a major unifying effort among Democrats or the likelihood of continued defeat is high. Our success or failure is therefore truly of our own making. Every faction within the Democrats needs to understand the concept that Ambassador Crocker espouses and take it to heart as they look at other party factions and their respective beliefs.
A second point worth thinking about as the various factions develop strategies moving forward is one I remember from the 30 years when I was in and out of DC lobbying for a number of associations and their membership. No matter the issue, I never got everything I wanted and was able to get along with factions that sometimes were polar opposite. I learned quickly that in a successful legislative process we always only get part of what is desired. To the differing factions with the Democratic Party, I would first urge us all to understand the concept of empathy and secondly be willing to take less then we want. If those two concepts hold for everyone, in my view, the Democrats will be successful beyond belief.
Understand this stuff is written by a guy who is not a part of any faction within the party, just one who believes that many policy positions expressed by the party are in the country’s best interest.
by Dick Goodson