Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Logic of Empathy: How Obama is Like Spock

President Obama has seen the new Star Trek movie. "Everybody was saying I was Spock, so I figured I should check it out," he told Newsweek, making the Vulcan salute with his hand. Some critics will see this as a new opportunity to question his citizenship. I think it can help them understand Obama's views about the law.

As Dahlia Lithwick has pointed out, conservatives have been trying to figure out what to make of the president's claim that he will look for "empathy" in his Supreme Court pick. It's not a new claim. Sen. Obama cited John Roberts' lack of empathy as the reason he was voting against him. (Jeffrey Toobin argues Obama has been vindicated.) For some, the confusion over empathy has become acute. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who has promised to bring a hip-hop feel to his party, said: "Crazy nonsense empathetic! I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind!" A graduate of Georgetown University Law School, Steele was not quoting case law but, apparently, representing.

To read more of John Dickerson's commentary go to

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