Tom Coburn: not a fan of empathy, unless you’re a Republican

Roughly six minutes and forty-five seconds into his opening statement during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) referenced President Obama’s desire for a Supreme Court nominee with empathy, as if a Supreme Court justice shouldn’t have empathy. What’s interesting about Sen. Coburn’s remarks regarding empathy is the fact that during the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito, Sen. Coburn seemed to be supportive of a Supreme Court justice possessing empathy:

U.S. SENATOR TOM COBURN (R-OK): Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and what’s important to you in life?

ALITO: Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point.

ALITO: I don’t come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn’t experience those things. I don’t take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that’s why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

When I have cases involving children, I can’t help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that’s before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who’s been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I’ve known and admire very greatly who’ve had disabilities, and I’ve watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn’t think of what it’s doing — the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

COBURN: Thank you.

So let’s recap:

  • Empathetic Republican-nominated Supreme Court nominee? Sen. Tom Coburn says, “HECK YEAH!”
  • Empathetic Democratic-nominated Supreme Court nominee? Sen. Tom Coburn says, “HECK NO!”

Cleary, Sen. Tom Coburn is no fan of consistency.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Sen. Coburn should think about investing in a good dictionary, so that he can figure out the difference between empathy and sympathy, a difference he couldn’t quite grasp during his opening statement today.

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, esp. in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.


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