Political pandering is telling a voter what they want to hear in order to solicit their vote. It is a timeless political technique. However, when it is done irresponsibly, without any limits, pandering directly destroys purpose.
The Teachings of Law School
It is no accident that many politicians are trained as lawyers. At the very beginning of my law school experience I was taught an essential principle about legal argument, whether oral or in writing. In drafting an argument we were taught that opposing briefs were to be like "two ships passing in the night." For a long time I was confused as to what this meant. I mean, if two people are writing about the same set of events, shouldn't there be some agreement, some overlap in their positions? The answer to this question, according to the quote is, "No." The two positions should be presented as so diametrically opposed that you would not easily recognize them as the same event, hence, "ships passing in the night."
This method, called argument or persuasion, seeks to present the client's position in the best possible light. Accordingly, Squires and Rombauer, the authors of our legal writing text informed the reader that:
"The facts must be candidly set forth, but the writer may arrange them, phrase them, and expand or condense treatment of particular events so as to emphasize favorable facts and to diminish unfa vorable facts."
So the art of persuasion depends on skillfully emphasizing what we call the "favorable facts" and diminishing what we refer to as the "unfavorable facts."
Now any reader of intelligence will soon realize that this kind of factual manipulation comes very close to the border of downright factual distortion. Some people call factual distortion "lying." But, as you can see from the explanation, lying is not what lawyers are taught. They are taught to manage the facts. That this process brings one continually into the danger land of distortion is taught as merely one of the hazards of the practice of advocacy or persuasion.
And these days, because of the prominence that lawyers have in our public life, even non-lawyers engage in this sometimes hazardous activity.
100% Anti-Abortion and 100% Pro-Choice
Perhaps the clearest example of this kind of pandering occurred in a local race in our city in 2004. On September 1, 2004 the Everett Herald ran a story entitled: "On abortion, lawmaker is on both sides: Everett lawmaker receives perfect ratings from pro and anti factions."
In the article, reporter David Olson revealed the controversy generated by Rep. David Simpson's efforts to gain the endorsements of Human Life of Washington, an anti-abortion group, and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. In completing their questionnaires he indicated support for both organizations.
In fact, Human Life of Washington, was so impressed with his answers that "it endorsed him in the 38th Legislative District primary Sept. 14 against union leader Mike Sells." He told them that he was "so strongly against abortion that he supports making it illegal in almost all circumstances."
Then both groups
learned of the answers given the other.
To their surprise each group had given him their highest score. Olson reported that Simpson "became perhaps
the first political candidate in state history to get a 100 percent score from
When this was discovered
Human Life CEO Dan Kennedy said he felt "burned" and that the group would "withdraw its endorsement." In addition he stated, "I have never
heard of anything like this. It's
disingenuous in the least, and extremely troubling."
When Simpson learned that his answers had been made public he stated that his response to Human Life's questionnaire were incorrect.
Olson reported that
Karen Cooper of NARAL was "miffed that Simpson apparently was trying to play
both sides of the fence on the politically volatile abortion issue." He quoted her as saying:
"To be 100 percent pro-choice and 100 percent anti-choice is a total contradiction in terms. I think this is about trying to please the listener and saying what the listener wants."