When Republicans mocked President Obama for for saying he was looking for “empathy” in a SCOTUS nominee, they had good reason to be worried. Because when you truly empathize with the situation of another, it's hard to support public policies that hurt that person.
The quality of empathy seems to illustrate a major difference between Democrats and Republicans. Many in the GOP “see the light” on issues like health care for the disabled, civil liberties, and marriage equality only when those issues directly affect someone close to them. There's a basic inability to make the leap from caring about someone you know personally to a whole group of strangers who are in the same situation.
Deficit hawk Sarah Palin did like some government spending:
Ms. Palin’s first policy speech as a vice-presidential nominee addressed school financing for special-needs children. She promised that under a McCain-Palin administration disabled students would have the option of attending private schools at public expense. As governor of Alaska, Ms. Palin increased financing for special-needs students, signing a bill that promised to triple per-pupil spending over three years for those students whose educations cost more.
Of course even person-to-person empathy has its limits in some: the shooting of colleague Congresswoman Gabby Giffords didn't move former Senator Scott Brown on federal gun legislation. It took the murder of 20 first graders to make him re-think his position.
Our latest example of newly-discovered Republican empathy happened yesterday when Ohio Senator Rob Portman announced he was changing his position on marriage equality:
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), once a staunch opponent of gay marriage, says that he now supports same-sex nuptials after his son told him he was gay.
He also said: “It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years.”