Man, it’s been quite a while since I wrote a post here. Reasons why range from the fact my job got considerably more intense (and, as my job is very writing-intensive, I preferred to devote my spare time to practicing guitar) to my increased activity on Twitter in the hope that such micro thoughts would serve the same purpose as my brief posts here.
But they don’t. Sometimes, ideas need more than what could end up being 10,000 characters (although, if TWTR does end up doing that, who knows what hell will break loose on that platform). And one of those ideas that I have been kicking around in vague form recently was how this U.S. primary season has seen even more pandering than, well, the last primary season (which looks like Bernard Shaw in comparison).
The political pandering has been on both sides of the aisle, by nearly all candidates. To save time, I’m going to go after the usual suspects. So many bytes have already been devoted to laying out how Sanders and Trump are both tapping into what veins of populist anger remain in the U.S. that I don’t need to do that. What I do need to add is that since neither candidate has produced anything in the way of detailed policy proposals that are either realistic (Sanders) or, in actuality, serious (Trump), and one of those two has almost nothing in the way of actual political experience, it’s clear they are pandering to the general populace.
Now, this is where many people, including myself, often fall on nonsensical self-congratulatory mental pats on the back that range from “Well, maybe other people will get fooled by that” to “Of course it will work on some, but us better-informed voters know what’s really going on”. Truth is, everyone is biased and has their own particular interests to defend. Rural blue-collar voters may well benefit, in their view, from Trump’s policies, while young urbanites may deem the “democratic socialism” proposed by Sanders more reasonable and just than the status quo. Regardless, many have entirely legitimate grievances and, accordingly, are expressing them by flocking to either Trump or Sanders. Whether that’s wise or not, well, that’s not definitively for me to say.
However, I don’t think that anyone is really fooled, at least all the time, by the realities of what Sanders and Trump are proposing (or vaguely sketching out, with air quotes). Maybe some are actually fooled or I am missing something, but I think that the storyline of this primary season is that people are willing to take being pandered to over being ignored, which is what I’m guessing a fairly sizable amount of the U.S. population feels happened in 2012. Primaries are the season to pander, after all, as can be seen by the rhetorical lurches from flourishes suiting New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Iowa. It’s one of the weaknesses of election cycles in the current evolution of mass media that such pandering feeds into ever-strengthening narratives that, fairly or unfairly, can come to exert an outsized influence on campaigns. Let’s take Jeb Bush as an example of someone who many say just stood no chance against Trump, when it comes to political instincts. Maybe that’s true, but I also think that since he was unwilling to pander, or at the very least bad at it, Jeb didn’t stand out enough to survive media narratives that were all too eager to court Trump’s increasingly ludicrous statements. (Quick shout-out to an excellent Slate article about Jeb, and one of the reasons I was quite sorry to see him go.)
The question is, will such pandering survive beyond the primaries? Will, this time, given the craziness of the cycle thus far, voters be assuaged by the eventual clumsy shifts back to the middle? Some idealized middle where the expansion of the insured population under the Affordable Care Act can be reconciled with Republican animosity toward it (in some cases, justified, given the ACA’s flaws), to take just one issue?
I frankly have no idea as of yet, because even though the pandering schtick will get old, the apparent ideological divide between the two poles of the political spectrum has rarely been wider. If I had to bet, there still is room for a moderate (which is what Kasich and Rubio and Clinton are hoping to fill) compromise. Given what’s happening in the world at large, depending on how vigorously the U.S. economy remains the bright spot in terms of growth, the divide could widen, leaving more room for a moderate to stake his or her claim.