After bragging a little too much about his business successes, former Illinois Senator Charles Percy said, “If only I could see myself as others see me.” He truly had a sense of humility, one which included a willingness to listen to what others said about any blind spots that he might have.
It’s easy to see blind spots, such as Anthony Weiner’s denial that his sexual peccadilloes impact upon his ability to be an effective public servant. We tend to think of him as the exception rather than the rule. However, it’s quite possible that the rule is “almost all human beings have blind spots.”
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has a similar blind spot to Weiner; he has lost the confidence of his constituency because he refuses to recognize the gravity of his sexual harassment, particularly with his own female staff members.
But how about others in politics who do not engage in problematic sexual behavior? Aren’t they capable of having blind spots? Let’s take a relatively easy example, House Majority Leader John Boehner. Let’s first identify those topics to which he is not blind, because he talks about them. Then we’ll examine the issues that he tends to ignore. Those are where his blind spots lurk.
Boehner has said something that probably has never been said before by a Congressional leader, “This Congress should be judged on the laws that it repeals rather than the ones that it passes.” Perhaps that is why he has had the House fruitlessly vote forty times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare). He wants to lower taxes, which in this economy will have the impact of reducing government revenue. In turn, that will limit the money available to fund vital programs. Boehner favors across-the-board cuts to virtually all federal departments (including Defense). This means less resources for education, health care, infrastructure development, school lunches, job training, virtually everything. He’ll talk about foreign policy when given guidance from senior Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
He seems to be blind to the basic principle upon which the progressive movement is built: empathy. When he talks about the country’s problems, he focuses on taming the budget, eliminating waste and fraud, increasing patriotism, and cutting entitlements. There is rarely any mention of the people, of the collection of more than 300 million Americans, all of whom to one extent or another need the help of the federal government. He talks about fairness as if we had a level playing field. He seems to lack the awareness that millions of Americans and billions of global citizens do not earn a livable wage and those people’s lives are often characterized by misfortune and even misery.
All of us tend to have blind spots. Noteworthy are baseball players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, who have such difficulty in coming to terms with blatant offenses that they committed. Progressives can frequently be blind to the economic benefits that a development that might bring, while doing damage to the environment. A parent may not see how he or she is spoiling a child; a boss may not recognize that he or she is ignoring a group of workers.
Generally in “proper company” we don’t point out one another’s blind spots. It’s a personal issue that needs to be addressed with caution and sensitivity. There often will be denial, as evidenced so clearly with Weiner and Filner.
But with someone like John Boehner, who is holding millions of Americans hostage because of his inability to empathize with them, an intervention is essential. Unfortunately. he does not listen to Democrats. or even most of the mainstream media. In his case, our hope has to be that enough moderate Republicans come forward and help him connect the dots. Unfortunately for the country, moderate Republicans are an almost extinct species. So we’re back to ourselves; trying to better understand our own blind spots and hope that that will help improve the country and world.