The Theory of Pandering
By Arnold Kling
Russ Roberts, in this speech, offers a theory of political pandering. He suggests that politicians know that they are exaggerating problems, because the solutions they offer are so pathetic. If you really thought that all the gains in the economy over the past 30 years had gone to the top 1 percent, Roberts says, then you would advocate something more radical than an increase in the minimum wage or a way to make it easier for workers to form unions.
What Roberts calls pandering, I call fear-mongering. I think that both parties do it. For those of us who believe in free markets, I believe that the Republican exaggerate not only their own commitment to free markets but also the extent to which Democrats threaten free markets.
I think that stem-cell research and Global Warming both are issues that are heavy on pandering and fear-mongering. The Bush Administration has not outlawed stem-cell research. It has only stopped Federal government funding for certain types of stem-cell research. On the other hand allowing embryonic stem-cell research would not mean the end of respect for human life.
On Global Warming, the main thing that believers do is get angry with skeptics. What sort of legislation are we seeing proposed? Anyone? Bueller?
On health care, the Left is excited about single-payer health care, and the Right fears single-payer health care. Again, where are the specific proposals for single-payer health care in terms of legislation or the platforms of leading Presidential candidates?
A reasonable theory of modern politics is that it is all melodrama. People take government less and less seriously, which makes politicians shout louder and louder to get our attention. Whenever a story breaks in the media, whether it be Terry Schiavo or the Virginia Tech killings, politicians rush to get in front of the camera to take advantage of it. That, I would suggest, is a sign of their desperation.