Pander: “…to provide gratification for others’ desires.” That definition, provided by Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, is more polite than the way we usually think about the word. Perhaps that’s because its roots are from Pandare, a character in Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde. Pandare facilitates an affair between the characters in the poem’s title, and “to pander” eventually came to mean “to pimp.”
Pandering and politics go together like rum and Pepsi, of course, and the relationship is hardly new. But we are seeing it taken to new heights in these days of polarized populaces, especially in the US but right here in Canada, too.
The word came to mind when I heard newly elected BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson speak recently. First, he promised to fight the NDP plan to let voters again have a say in replacing the first past the post electoral system. Huh? Wilkinson won the election on the fifth ballot, specifically because his own party designed a voting system that featured a form of proportional representation, giving each riding in the province 100 votes.
I interviewed Wilkinson a few months ago, and I thought he was candid, charming and down to earth. But his pandering expertise quickly came right to the fore when he demanded the NDP fix the “dumpster fire” that the ICBC has become. Yup, a dumpster fire lit by his own government and fueled by its constant draining of ICBC “profits”, but its now, according to him, all the NDP’s fault. Call for an end to the unnecessary incursion of government into the insurance business—we no longer benefit from lower rates than the private sector can offer—but at least take some responsibility for having created the problem.
I am not necessarily in the camp that thinks that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can’t open his mouth without pandering, but I have starting to have my doubts. He did get unfairly criticized by his use of the non-word “personhood”, which was reported out of context and used in jest, but his last meeting with the family of Colton Boushie is pandering, in my opinion. His “politically correct” comments about the jury decision to find Boushie’s killer not guilty were outrageous enough for a man in his position (as were the comments by his Justice Minister) but to arrange a meeting with a family mired in a hot button issue has me questioning his judgment.
Don’t like the way our justice system works? Get in line. Few do. But don’t interfere with a process that is in place—fix the problems.
Fix them how? No more jury selection process in which prosecutors and defense attorneys can eliminate candidates without stating a reason. Juries of our peers should mean a random selection with no chance for manipulation by either side. Have a computer spit out the names and have those names comprise the jury.
Get rid of the unanimity requirement. Juries should have an uneven number of members and majority should rule. Limit the time allotted for trial. Make a week the max for major crimes, a couple of hours for less serious ones. Clear out the backlog of civil cases by having each file reviewed by a citizen’s panel first. If the suit is considered frivolous or without merit by the panel it doesn’t get the privilege of going to court. Start a process to rewrite laws, beginning with the Criminal Code of Canada, so that they can be understood by a person with an average education. Stop letting lawyers be the central part of the entire process.
Pandering is what happens when polarization has been created through the divide and conquer message. Clever politicians have come to understand that they don’t have to appeal to the broad public, but to keep their own—let’s use Trump’s own word here—base happy and divide opponents into a smaller groups. It’s what the anti-labour folks did a century ago when unions became seen as extensions of the communist threat—pit rural workers against urban workers, regions against regions, the agricultural sector and against the manufacturing sector, and so on. Break apart your opposition into small enough segments and you don’t need the will of the majority to gain or hold on to power.
But change won’t come until we stop falling for the people who are pandering to our personal desires.