Pandering is Good

Politicians are supposed to promise to do things we want so that we will vote for them. Why should we vote for them otherwise? Still, every election cycle, politicians are blamed when they do this and are said to be pandering. Sure, it can be a bit embarrassing when the same politician takes different positions on the same issue when he talks to different groups, but voters are supposed to be smart enough to discern hypocrisy from authenticity.

As far as “pandering” to the Jews, I say, the more the better. I want every politician in America to be committed to the U.S.-Israel alliance. If people criticize politicians for pandering to us, that’s good news, because it means they’re taking the right positions on our issues.

When it comes to shameless pandering, no one can top Hillary Clinton. Rather than raising the practice to an art form, she has demonstrated how easy it is to squander one’s credibility. The First Lady may make a great senator, she may be preferable to her opponent in the New York election, but her efforts to solicit Jewish support have been extraordinarily clumsy. Before becoming a candidate, she spoke out in favor of a Palestinian state. She’s tried to back away from that stand since her campaign began. She smartly went for the easy points by traveling to Israel, but she squandered most of the good will by meeting with Yasir Arafat’s wife. Then when Mrs. Arafat launched into her anti-Semitic tirade about Israelis poisoning Palestinians and Mrs. Clinton hugged her rather than rebuking her, the trip turned into a political disaster. More recently, Mrs. Clinton went pandering for black votes at a gathering whose leaders are known for their hostility toward Jews. Once again an anti-Semitic diatribe preceded Mrs. Clinton’s speech and, again, she failed to adequately respond. Undoubtedly, Mrs. Clinton will continue to pander to Jews in New York, and I hope she does, but how many will take her seriously?

Hillary certainly has had a long time to study from the undisputed master politician, her husband. Bill Clinton could pander with the best of them, and he retained his credibility while doing so (okay, most Republicans don’t think he’s ever had any credibility). When Bill ran for President, his positions on the Middle East could have been written by AIPAC. For example, during the 1992 Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton said: “I recognize Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel, and I believe in the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” Well, President Clinton has not recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, recently, exercised his power to prevent the embassy from being moved.

The key to being effective is to be consistent and convincing. Once you’re elected, you can do whatever you want, so long as you can withstand the possible retribution when up for reelection. Despite reneging on his Jerusalem promise, Clinton continued to get Jewish support because he was generally pro-Israel in his first term and had the good fortune of running for reelection against someone viewed as far less sympathetic. Not everyone is so lucky.

Many politicians will say the right things again this year. How many candidates have you already heard repeat a similar mantra: “I will recognize Jerusalem. I will move the embassy”? Of course the last part of the mantra is silent – “ . . . until I am elected and the State Department Arabists tell me not to.”

It certainly will not come as news to anyone that politicians make promises during their campaigns that they cannot keep or have no intention of keeping. Some officials have more credibility than others, and better track records, which gives you hope that some of what they say may be translated into action. Still, the bottom line is they’re not likely to adopt positive positions on issues they never took during their campaigns, so it is better to have nice-sounding promises that aren’t fulfilled than to be ignored altogether.

So, to Al, Bill, John, Steve, George W., Hillary, Rudy and everyone else running for office this year, pander away. Tell us you’ll recognize Jerusalem and move the embassy, provide more aid to Israel, support the peace process, strengthen strategic cooperation and be the best friend Israel ever had in the House, Senate or White House. If you keep your promises, you’ll have our gratitude, but, if you lie to us, we’ll remember and it’ll cost you.