Friday, August 10, 2012

The Politics of Pandering

It is considered quite unremarkable that a candidate would espouse certain causes to attract the votes of certain special interest groups; immigration issues to get votes from Latinos, for instance, or bolstering Medicare to secure votes from the elderly. No one sees anything wrong with that at all, those voters are merely “voting in their best interest,” and the candidate is merely “serving the needs of his constituents.”

When a candidate says he will support a specific tax cut, the benefit goes to the “one percent,” and the incentive is campaign contributions rather than votes, that is an appalling breach of ethics and we charge him with bribery.

But how are “I will promise legislation which is to your specific benefit and you will help me get elected by voting for me,” and “I will promise legislation which is to your specific benefit and you will help me get elected by donating cash to my campaign effort” different in any ethical principal? In one case the candidate is making promises for votes and in the other for cash, but in both cases he is selling his promises.

So corrupt has our system of governance become, that we fully expect our legislators to be mercenaries in that manner; to cater to special interests for votes by tailoring promises to the wants of those special interests, providing only that those special interests are not rich. We do not accept legislators selling promises for cash but we fully accept, even admire, legislators selling promises for votes to secure their own reelection.

The word “pander” in the political context means the act of expressing one's views in accordance with the likes of a group to which one is attempting to appeal, and we tend to be filled with admiration for politicians who do it skillfully, but outside of that specific context it means, “to cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses,” which is certainly a much less noble endeavor. That is precisely what a candidate does when he “sells promises to buy votes,” and we not only permit it, we reward it by electing the panderers to office.

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