So Mr. Bret Stephens ("Dear Millennials: The Feeling Is Mutual") has taken offense at @anarchopriapism, a 20-year-old from Northern Ireland with 258 followers in her Twitter account (that's up from 64 since Mr. Bret's column came out), and her suggestion that it would be a good thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to able to experience empathyNothing says "perfect candidate to lead the most powerful nation in the world" like "I have no empathy"— The Mars Travolta (@Anarchopriapism) May 3, 2019
My own reactionary reaction was different. O.K., I thought, I could definitely vote for Joe — provided he has the mettle to stand his ground.Though Mr. Bret doesn't actually come out and explain what's wrong with empathy, or empathy for the younger generation, or empathy for
that part of these younger generations that specializes in histrionic self-pity and moral self-righteousness, usually communicated via social media with maximum snark.... Gawker spawn and HuffPo twerps...(HuffPo twerps?) or even mention empathy again for the rest of the piece, though he does accuse the youth of being pitiless and warn them that the lack of fellow feeling for older folks, or whatever, could turn back on them some day
Does it ever occur to some of our more militant millennials that the pitiless standards they apply to others will someday be applied pitilessly to them?And it's all about the bad kids at Yale, Middlebury, and Harvard who cruelly mistreated their elders in 2015, 2017, and last week respectively, for whom I'm not really anxious to cook up a defense, though on the Harvard case I'd urge everybody to read Matty's excellent and judicious piece pointing out that there's enough pox to go around all the houses (in particular, the "faculty deans" accused of creating a "workplace climate of hostility and suspicion"—not deans in the academic sense but in fact a kind of symbolic dormitory houseparents—were the first black faculty ever appointed to the post, and Harvard's Black Law Students Association has suggested that there might be some "racist undertones" to the way they've been treated, not an aspect of the story that Stephens's source mentions), and concluding that everybody involved in this debate is participating in framing it in such a way that it's practically impossible to learn anything from it:
To people who come to the story with a strong sense that out-of-control college students are a threat to free society, the Sullivan case is a perfect example of that. To those of us who come to the story with a strong sense that the media is blowing campus controversies way out of proportion to their actual significance, the Sullivan case is a perfect example of that. And whether you feel African Americans are marginalized on elite campuses despite their progressive rhetoric, that #MeToo has become a massive exercise in overreach, or that the self-interest of high-end lawyers has become a toxic influence on American politics, the Sullivan case is a perfect example of all that as well.
Thus, perhaps most of all, it’s a perfect example of the extent to which the modern-day nationalized media climate tends to subsume all particular events under the mighty steamroller of big-picture political narratives.In that spirit, it wouldn't do any harm to point out that old Joe himself did not in fact mean to announce that he had no empathy, even for Millennials—it's really Joe's relationship to language, which is that of a man trying to walk fast while carrying a very full paper cup of coffee without a lid, so that there's always a certain amount of sloshing. Empathy is his stock in trade! Joe's got empathy to burn, and he really burns it! But the word spilled out at the wrong moment.
He meant (in January 2018, by the way) to say he had no sympathy for them, if they wanted to make excuses for their failure to change the world:
"The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here’s the deal guys, we decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement in the first stage. The women’s movement came to be. So my message is, get involved. There’s no place to hide. You can go and you can make all the money in the world, but you can't build a wall high enough to keep the pollution out. You can't live where—you can't not be diminished when your sister can't marry the man or woman, or the woman she loves. You can't—when you have a good friend being profiled, you can't escape this stuff. And so, there's an old expression my philosophy professor would always use from Plato, 'The penalty people face for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves.' It's wide open.Though it's not clear to me what members of the younger generation he had in mind who are insisting on making all the money in the world instead of changing it, unless it's his 49-year-old son Hunter.
I hope he's not poohpoohing kids buried in student debt, for which Biden himself bears some of the responsibility, and certainly didn't show a lot of that fabled empathy, as Helaine Olen noted at WaPo in April, when he was pushing bankruptcy "reform" against the advice of noted bankruptcy expert Professor Elizabeth Warren:
“An awful lot of people are discharging debt who shouldn’t,” he said at one 2001 Senate hearing. “I am so sick of this self-righteous sheen put on anybody who wants to tighten up bankruptcy is really anti-debtor.” It’s worth noting that Biden’s son Hunter worked at MBNA for five years and was retained as a consultant for another five — all while Biden was backing the bankruptcy bill that would help MBNA....
Warren eventually lost the battle in 2005, when more than a dozen Democratic senators joined Biden in voting for the change, which, among other things, all but eliminated the right for student loan debtors to offload privately issued student loans in court, substantially raised the cost of filing for protection from creditors and made it harder to discharge unsecured debt such as credit card bills. The change, according to the New York Federal Reserve, contributed to the subprime mortgage crisis.And I hope he's not making fun of those young people who have no time for political activism because low wages force them to take extra jobs in the gig economy, something of which as far as I can tell Biden shows no awareness at all; it would be super-nice if he'd listen to the advice of his vice-presidential advisor Jared Bernstein:
First, being a regular “W-2 employee” should be the default status. There are too many workers, including in the on-demand space, misclassified as contractors, which automatically pulls them out from under existing protections (arguments that this would limit the flexibility of their hours are wrong). The real value of the minimum-wage and the overtime-salary threshold must rise. We need fair scheduling laws, paycheck transparency laws, and laws that limit the use of noncompete practices....Of course there's more to Biden than the reliance on sentiment that sometimes makes him sound a lot like a David Brooks with affect, and the reluctance to enter on intersectional matters; and the ideas Biden does have on working people may seem a little out of date but include at least the last two items in Bernstein's list there, revival of protections for union organizing, strengthened protections against wage theft, and proposals for four years of free college, higher taxes on investment income to pay for a tripling of the child tax credit, and the $15/hour minimum wage; if Bret Stephens found out what Biden thinks on these issues he'd run shrieking from the room under the impression he was in a communist cell meeting.
I hope he finds out before he commits himself to this mettlesome candidacy. Actually I don't hope that at all, I'd love it if he found out right in the middle, but that won't happen either.