Convention Pander Bearing
Rudy Giuliani’s keynote address at the Republican convention last week in St. Paul may serve as the yardstick against which future efforts at pander bearing are measured. Pander bears, noted for their propensity for telling constituents what they want to hear rather than what they should, must have their chests inflated at Rudy’s efforts. As noted in the last entry (“Poking a Georgian Stick in Russia’s Eye”), Rudy made his appeal to the more bloody-thirsty neo-conservatives in his feckless effort to drum up military support for defending Georgia (the European members of NATO, fortunately, were having nothing of it). Because nothing will come of the “We are all Georgians” pander, it is a virtually perfect pander: those who wanted their red meat got it, but there is no lasting effect (unless, of course, one is Georgian and has now seen the prospects of ever getting into NATO dealt a severe blow).
Rudy did not, however, quit with a one-pander performance. Instead, he raised the bar with a second, blatant pander that has been discussed in earlier entries here: the status of Jerusalem. As the reader may remember (or can look up), this pander is the idea that a “unified” Jerusalem is one of the pillars of U.S. policy in the region. One Jerusalem translates into the city as a single Jerusalem under Israeli rule that also serves as the capital of the Jewish state. In June 2008, both Obama and McCain pandered to AIPAC that they supported this idea. The problem, as noted then, is that the one Jerusalem solution is an absolute deal breaker in peace negotiations for the Israelis and Palestinians, since the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital and are adamant that here can be no peace settlement if that demand is not met. Coming down on the Israeli side of this argument demonstrates the United States does not wish to serve as an honest broker between the sides in peace talks, but instead is a surrogate for the Israeli leadership and thus not to be trusted by the Palestinians.
Recognizing this consequence, Obama subsquently softened his stand on this issue to allow for negotiations on the Jerusalem issue. Puffing up like a peacock, Giuliani assailed this change of positions as “flip-flopping” of the worst sort and reiterated the original McCain pander. Although he did not say so, Rudy was effectively arguing that trying to set the scene so the United States might help move the peace process forward was irresponsible, whereas pandering to the Israeli right was responsible. One can only hope that American Jews who were the target of the pander are sophisticated enough to recognize Rudy’s pander or what it is. (Rudy did not, by the way, mention that the United States does not recognize any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which is why the American embassy is still in Tel Aviv.)
There is a conundrum in all this. In an intertwined world, foreign policy is too important not to be a central feature of election debates: voters do need to know how their proposed leaders will respond to foreign crises and day-to-day relations with friends and adversaries. Election campaigns, however, are about getting more votes than one’s opponent, and that means appealing to voting groups who are critical to election. As the Georgian and Jerusalem cases offer more than adequate evidence, the appeal to voters can and often does devolve into irresponsible pandering that can make situations worse for whoever is elected. If there is a silver lining in this latest episode, it may be that at least Rudy Giuliani is not a candidate whose pandering can bring him personal victory–unless he is pandering to candidates McCain and Palin for a spot in a McCain administration.