Speaking at a Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony in Washington today, Barack Obama recommended we embrace a “habit of empathy” in order to prevent future genocides. You can say one thing about this toothless pop-psychology admonition: Obama has certainly put it into practice. From his early post-September 11 comments about the “climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair” that lead to the attack on America, to his obsessively aired “respect” for the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Barack Obama is more than ready to put himself in the other guy’s shoes.
At today’s ceremony Obama also called silence “evil’s great co-conspirator.” You’d never know that Obama has failed to adequately address widespread human-rights abuses under all those regimes for which he feels so much empathy. While exchanging reading material with Hugo Chavez, Obama didn’t seem to find the right moment to inquire about the well-being of Venezuela’s systematically tormented Jews, for instance. You’d never know that his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only spoke up about human-rights abuses in China to make it clear that from now one the U.S. would be silent on the topic.
Barack Obama relies on the symbolic — and he’s very good at. The ceremonial speech is his métier. But his actions in the real world undercut the impact of these puffed up press ops and leave him looking less than credible on matters of life and death.