Pander Bear

I was and am still no fan of Bill Clinton. Or any of the major Democratic Party leaders of the last fifteen to twenty years, really. But I’m hard-pressed to think of any moment where Clinton pandered to his political base as shamelessly as George W. Bush has done on numerous occasions. When Clinton pandered, it was often in a kind of cost-free, purely symbolic manner, like complaining about Sister Souljah.

Not so Bush and the Republican Congressional leadership. When they pander, it’s expensive in one respect or another. They raised steel tariffs at a time when Washington needed to demonstrate a good faith commitment to free trade in order to sustain momentum towards reform in other countries. They casually advocate Constitutional amendments on social issues. They offer to give Americans $100.00 to buy them off on gas prices. Now the President is going to send off the National Guard to try and soothe his critics on the right, an expensive but also exquisitely ineffective gesture. Come on, dedicated partisans of this Administration: doesn’t this make you feel at least slightly embarassed? If they’re drunk on power, this stuff is the equivalent of being the guy with the lampshade on his head.

Update: I’m reminded that he’s also pandered to people outside his political base.

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9 Responses to Pander Bear

  1. emschwar says:

    I’m no dedicated partisan of this Administration, but I can safely say that his speech last night was anything but pandering to his base. In fact, he pretty much ignored his base, except when he was telling them to stop whining about things they weren’t actually whining about. He’s not sending the National Guard out to actually guard borders, which is something his base would support; he’s sending them out to man desks and push papers around. This does free up some Border Patrol agents to actually get out there and patrol the border, but it’s a far cry from doing anything significant. He is supposedly increasing funding for the Border Patrol, but only after he cut it rather drastically early in his administration.

    Furthermore, it’s only a temporary measure, which he rather lamely called the president of Mexico to assure him was the case. I’m not sure what message that sends to his base, but I suspect it’s along the lines of, “Don’t worry, this’ll all blow over in a few months, then you can continue to send your people over the border to my big business constituents.”

    If that was meant to be pandering to his base, he did a very poor job of it.

  2. DougLathrop says:

    From what I’ve read this morning, Bush’s immigration gambit appears to have satisfied no one. And from the freefall of his poll numbers in the past year I’d say increasing numbers of his formerly dedicated supporters are embarrassed.

    Did you read Glenn Greenwald’s essay a while back on the Bush personality cult? As someone who grew up in a conservative Republican household, I felt much the same kind of cognitive dissonance as he did; it was simply mind-boggling to me that a movement that had taken so much pride in claiming such unswerving commitment to core principles would chuck them all in favor of blind adulation of The Leader (and not even a very charismatic or smooth-talking Leader, at that). Now that the right wing is turning on him, some conservatives are using that as evidence that Greenwald’s cult never really existed after all. To me, though, it confirms his thesis; when cults implode, they do so with astonishing speed, and the spectacle of former adherents denouncing The Leader with the same vehemence with which they once praised his name is not at all surprising. That’s what the parable of the emperor’s new clothes is all about, after all.

    It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, really. And as a Californian, it amuses me that the very issue (immigration) that blew apart the GOP in this state in the 1990s is now working the same mojo nationally.

  3. withywindle says:

    1) I am, so far as I know, the only supporter of Pres. Bush who reads your blog; therefore, so far as I can tell, your address at the end is not genuinely one of dialog, but merely a way for you and your fellow liberals to feel good by sharing with one another the usual denunciations of the President.

    2) Pres. Clinton’s Sister Souljah comment was not pandering to his base, but, rather, a signal to moderates that he could be trusted to cross his base when necessary. Similarly, Pres. Bush applied the steel tarriffs not to soothe his base–he aggravated it by so doing–but rather to win marginal votes in West Virginia and Ohio. (Which, from the point of view of political necessity, has been amply justified by the 2004 elections.) Gas rebates and an ineffective use of the National Guard, as emschwar noted, have only irritated his base more, and are generally meant to appeal to the middle of the nation. These are rather elementary political facts; that you are ignorant of them renders the rest of your political analysis suspect.

    3) I can’t precisely recollect the details of Pres. Clinton’s budgetary policies, since I am not Norm Ornstein in disguise, but I would be startled if you didn’t find goodies for his base larded here and there–in somewhat smaller numbers, perhaps, because he had to get them through a Republican-controlled Congress from 1995 on. Although the whole gays-in-the-military flap in 1993 could be construed as base-pandering, as was his allowing of American funds for birth control overseas. (Do I recollect this correctly?) But in any case, simply preserving the liberal welfare state, which includes quite a lot of spending the middle of the country might constitute as shameless spending and pandering for liberal constituencies, might be considered yeoman service by Pres. Clinton for his base.

    4) We conservatives have provided measured criticism of the President throughout, as called for. His liberal critics have introduced the concept of a “personality cult” into the political analysis of his administration; it is an unnecessarily complicated and (unsurprisingly) false description. (As I may have mentioned before, there were millions of portraits of FDR in homes around the nation during his presidency; there was no FDR personality cult in any meaningful sense of the word then, and the phrase is even more ridiculous applied to Pres. Bush and his supporters now.) If you had read, say, the National Review Online from 2001 on, which has provided principled criticism of the President from multiple directions, you would know the idea of a Bush personality cult is simply ludicrous.

    5) We Republicans are a coalition. Pres. Bush unites quite disparate factions, often in a state of quite acute frustration that he has failed to satisfy any single one of them. Our support of him, therefore, takes into account the fact that he has to construct political coalitions and to disappoint us on some preferences. Fiscal conservatives are clearly nowhere near a majority of the Republican coalition; our support for Pres. Bush has always been tempered with the knowledge that neither he nor the Republican Party as a whole are purists on spending. Ditto on immigration–or any number of issues. Now, the President does seem to be losing his grip on how to provide minimal satisfaction to the conservative elements of the coalition of late–but this isn’t a matter of night and day, but of the marginal dissatisfaction of elements of the Republican party, who by failing to turn out to vote in November might hand the Democrats a narrow victory in the elections.

    6) I am disappointed in Pres. Bush’s policy choices on spending and immigration. But he’s always been a combination of Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill; I voted for the man twice knowing his character, and I am neither surprised nor regretful.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    Emschwar, to me, making a pointless gesture that otherwise goes against what you’re doing in policy IS pandering. It’s not as if pandering always or even often succeeds: look at the $100.00 rebate thing. Just about everyone was disgusted by it. But I’m just thinking about the folks who were telling us, as Doug points out, what a resolute and decisive leader Bush is, how he won’t have anything to do with politics-as-usual.

  5. withywindle says:

    He is decisively for amnestying illegal immigrants. It is rather frustrating for conservatives that he is as decisive against our principles here, as he has been for them in other situations; but the resolution and decisiveness is not cast in doubt by it not being in our favor.

    Similarly, he has never been a fiscal conservative. (Although he is a low-tax conservative.) Clearly its not an issue he cares about. It’s not that he drew a line in the sand on spending, and then made an about-face; he never drew the line at all. So I don’t quite see that this casts doubt on him being resolute and decisive; it merely underscores that he’s not and never has been a fiscal conservative.

  6. emschwar says:


    My definition of “pandering” includes an attempt to please those you’re pandering to, by which criterion Bush’s speech is woefully unsuccessful. He wasn’t even trying to please his base; he was actively telling them where to go, and what to do when they got there.

  7. joeo says:

    emschwar is right. Bush’s base is pissed.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    Sure. It didn’t work. But they TRIED, you know? That’s what I find sad and crass.

  9. emschwar says:

    Sorry, Timothy, they didn’t try. That’s the whole problem– Bush can’t even pander properly. I could name a good half-dozen things that Bush could have come up with, but didn’t, that would have been pandering to his base. Just off the top of my head:

    1. Promise to build a wall at the Mexican border. This wouldn’t have worked, and would never have been actually built, but just making the promise would be a WONDERFUL pander.

    2. Announce support to help local governments deport illegals when arrested in their jusrisdictions (that’s a sore point here in Denver, where an illegal alien killed a cop– but only after being released from custody at least three times previously). Again, this is something his base wants badly, and would stand little chance of actually being implemented properly.

    3. Announce a vigorous campaign to detect and fine employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. This would piss off the big business part of his base, but would pander to the rest of it, and since neither Bush nor Cheney is running in ’08, who cares?

    The fact is, Bush didn’t propose a single thing his base wanted, no matter how reasonable it would have been. You can’t pander if you don’t offer the people you’re pandering to somethin they want, and Bush didn’t offer his base anything they wanted.

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