Empathy is an essential component of leadership. Without it, prospective leaders are powerless to inspire people to follow them. Leadership, after all, is less about forcing a desired behavior and more about motivating followers to voluntarily take a certain action, and would-be followers never follow anyone who doesn’t empathize with them.

This is true of almost every political movement, whether bad or good. Karl Marx managed to launch one of the most popular political theories by appearing to sympathize with the unfair sufferings of the proletariat. Generations later, Donald Trump was successful in his populist campaign for president because voters felt that he could relate with them in a way that most conventional politicians couldn’t.

But Joe Biden, to his own credit (or, the credit of whomever masterminded his campaign) took empathy to a whole new level.

Of all of Trump’s deficiencies, his vitriolic attacks and insults, were perhaps most exploited by his opponents to depict him as a scary warmonger. So, while his supporters considered Trump to be sympathetic to them, his costliest fault was actually his perceived lack of empathy. Fully aware of this, the Biden campaign smartly chose to characterize the former Vice-President as a deeply empathic, kind-hearted man.

Simply do an internet search of the words “Joe Biden” and “Empathy” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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Forbes ran a story titled “How Empathy Defines Joe Biden,” and DW News explained that, “for Joe Biden, empathy wins the presidency.” The Atlantic gushed over his ability “to help bind up our wounds,” alleging that “there may never have been a wider gap in empathy than between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.” Even Biden himself tweeted the words “Empathy matters.”

Such drastic efforts were taken to highlight this quality until all other leadership qualities seemed to fall by the wayside. Apparently, it didn’t matter if Biden even possessed the competency or courage to run an entire country; all that really mattered was the simple fact that he made us feel better than Trump did.

I’m not faulting Biden for being empathic. As I said, empathy is essential to leadership. But empathy cannot replace true leadership skills.

If the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan proved anything to us, it proved that sympathy is not always sufficient. Sometimes, you have to set aside the warm fuzzy feelings and take a stand for the sake of the people you lead. No amount of empathy could have saved those lives in Afghanistan; nor could it have prevented the arming of the Taliban with our military equipment; nor could it answer a single question that the President simply didn’t feel like responding to.

The Afghanistan crisis ultimately confirmed Biden’s ineptitude, and when the books tell of this humiliating failure, I somehow can’t imagine that the fact he was less offensive than Trump will count for much. He certainly may have empathy, but history won’t remember Biden for his gratifying words or friendly smile. We’ll remember him for the cowardly way he looked evil in the face and did nothing about it.

In short, empathy is not everything. To quote Ronald Reagan, leaders must also possess “the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay. There is a point beyond which they must not advance.’”

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Perhaps the greatest example of this kind of resolve is the Prime Minister who famously led England through World War II, Winston Churchill. History records that the “British Bulldog” (as he came to be known) was certainly not the friendliest guy in the world, but unlike his weak-kneed predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, whose cowering attempts at appeasing Nazi Germany predictatly failed to secure peace and ultimately served to empower Hitler in his quest for Lebensraum, Churchill actually opposed evil and dealt serious blows to the designs of the enemy. Consequently, we don’t remember him for his frequent lack of niceness, but for his unwavering boldness in the face of those who wished to enact harm upon the world.

If he were alive today, Churchill would offend many people, which happens to be an irrelevant point considering that he’d also protect many people by his proactive antagonism towards evil. This infinitely outweighs the importance of a few hurt feelings, but that’s not how this generation of Americans sees it. 

Selfishly, many would rather have a genial pseudo leader who never offends anyone, even if he lacks the most basic skills required of a leader of the free world. He may equip our adversaries, lives may be lost in the process, but at least we don’t have to worry about mean tweets. 

By supporting kindness over courage, we’ve put our own personal comfort above the global reputation of the United States, and even above the safety of our own people. May this be an unmistakable wake-up call for Americans to never again exchange real leadership for the candidate who shows the most empathy.
It’s true; empathy is an essential component of leadership. But on its own it’s not leadership.