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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Keeping Them Honest: What Politicians Say Vs. What We Make Them Do

By dismissing politicians’ promises as meaningless, we let ourselves off the hook for making them take action.

Politicians are big, fat liars. It’s a belief so deeply ingrained in American culture that we’re taught to revere George Washington as the one-of-a-kind exception who narced himself out for chopping down a cherry tree, and even that story is completely made up. Like many things we believe, it’s not necessarily true that politicians produce lies the way plants produce oxygen. As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein has noted, presidents do basically try to fulfill their campaign promises, but they make more headlines by breaking them. And the 40-year-long effort to discredit government, which Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick has highlighted, has also probably contributed to the belief that our politicians are up to no good. But our constant and perhaps justified skepticism poses some big problems during a presidential election, which is at least partly about whose story of America we find more convincing.

But what if we focused on a different story? One of the most oft-cited incidents from FDR’s presidency is a policy meeting he held with labor leaders shortly after his election, which he concluded by telling them “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Did Roosevelt ever actually say those words? Who knows? Like Washington and his cherry tree, what matters is why we tell the story and what it says about how we view the man in question. FDR understood that regardless of what he personally believed, change had to happen from the bottom up, not just from the top down. He was a bold leader who was never afraid to take on a fight as long as he had the American people on his side. If we stop assuming that politicians will simply deliver progress without our involvement or that the process of policymaking is out of our hands once our votes are cast, then we might start to see elections in a very different light.

This question of trusting what politicians say is a tricky one for both of the major presidential candidates this year. As Mitt Romney makes his 97th pivot from the primaries to the general election, he may try to recant or alter positions he took to please the right-wing base that would send moderates screaming for the hills. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed noted that “[a]ccording to a Romney adviser, his private view of immigration isn’t as anti-immigrant as he often sounded” during the primaries. This prompted Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne to ask, “Does [that] mean Romney said things that he doesn’t really believe? …How many other ‘private’ positions does Romney hold that we don’t know about?” Romney has been plagued by such accusations of insincerity throughout the campaign, with opponents referring to the presumptive Republican nominee as a “well-oiled weather vane” and piling on an ill-judged remark comparing him to an Etch-A-Sketch.

Likewise, President Obama has come under fire from the left for promising “change you can believe in” and delivering only a handful of heavily compromised victories. Some progressives are especially frustrated because they believe Obama secretly agrees with their policy prescriptions but lacks the courage or political support to advocate for them. One such issue is gay marriage, where Obama claims his views are “evolving” in favor of legality despite the fact that he openly supported it 16 years ago and conveniently devolved just in time to run for higher office. Others see it as naïve to think that Obama has done anything other than what he wants to do. Roosevelt Institute Fellow Matt Stoller wrote that by blaming the president’s failures on management rather than ideology, “all the media boosters and center-left validators of Obama in 2008 let themselves off the hook for mistakes. Instead, they ask, ‘where did our inspiring Obama go?’”

Stoller’s point about the president’s critics letting themselves off the hook hints at the real answer to whether candidates tell us what they honestly believe or what they think we want to hear: We can’t know unless we read their minds, so we have to take them at face value, exercise our own best judgment, and either keep pushing them forward if we agree or stop them in their tracks if we don’t. Sure, all else being equal, it makes sense that progressives and conservatives alike want a man or woman of principle representing them in the White House. And obviously we don’t want chief executives so dishonest that they risk leaving office in handcuffs. But by focusing all our attention on the failings of our leaders, we absolve ourselves of responsibility for shaping and implementing the policies we want to see. Sometimes we’ll find a dream candidate, although more often we’ll have to settle for the closest match and work to move them in the right direction. But either way we need to go in with our eyes wide open, not simply trust that they’ll one day emerge from their campaign cocoons to become the beautiful butterflies we want them to be.

  • 1olderbutwiser1

    We have too many lawyers in government. Lawyers make laws. If I promise you something, and you have a witness, it is a verbal contract. But when a politician promises something to kazillions of voters who are hiring him for the position he is running for, he can then flip-flop? No, it’s time we collectively sue these bums, and leave them lifetime penniless for their breaking their contract. This country is so loaded with lawyers who encourage lying on a regular basis, it’s no wonder we are sliding into poverty. Time for public promises to be upheld, or let’s let lawyers financially ruin other lawyers who make these promises. Better yet would be to not elect ANY lawyers to any office, rather elect businessmen and women, who cam then nullify all the petty laws, code enforcement officers, nickel-dime wannabe cops, the whole works. Why do we have so many criminals on the streets? Why are we not safe in our own homes? Because of all the corruption in the legal system. Throw the bums out, that’s the only solution. Let’s get rid of property taxes as well, they are the ruination of our country. Property taxes deny the RIGHT to own property because they are based on all government having “union scale” employment while relying on raw competitive capitalism to pay those taxes. Have a sales tax, that is all. We must have taxes to have a civilized society, this way EVERYONE SHARES in the cost of civilization. Get rid of welfare, it is creating a nation of bums. Accept that some people simply do not have what it takes to be anything but poor. As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. He did not say, CHAMPION THE POOR, but rather that they will ALWAYS be with us. Acknowledge in your heart that the poor are, and seemingly will always be the parasites they are. Champion achievers, not parasites. Our entire federal government is based on championing those who achieve nothing but irresponsible procreation, which is insane. Why are schools crowded and our students continually sliding downward on a world-wide scale? Because we lack discipline in schools run amuck by irresponsible procreation by irresponsible parenting and “laws” denying parents the ability to discipline their young. Kids need a smack on the ass once in awhile, let’s acknowledge that. Animals on the plains do a better job of raising their young than many human “parents” do of raising their young, that’s a truism.

    • ObozoMustGo

      nice rant wiser1. I mean that sincerely!

      Have a nice day!

  • ObozoMustGo

    I second wiser1, but with an improvement… Get rid of all of the leftist nutjob lawyers. And put term limits in place for all Congressmen and Senators. One other big improvement would be reducing legislative sessions to 1 month per year. No more. Then it doesnt matter what their lies are. They cant stay around too long, and while they are there, the damage is limited.

    Have a nice day!

    • 1olderbutwiser1

      Man, you got a good idea there. But where would that leave a really great human being like Ron paul? Better if people would get of their duff and become a little nore involved with the election process. Know the issues, vote accordingly.

      • ObozoMustGo

        wiser… even Ron Paul has got to go. There are more of him out there. Let them come to the stage, also.

      • oldtack

        I agree. But when I said clean house I didn’t say throw everythig out. As with any house cleaning – you keep that which is solid and still utile. But, you get rid of all the useless and superfluous junk. And – there is much more superfluous “junk” in the House and Senate than there is good solid workable material.

        • An excellent beginning would be to shitcan all those house republican freshmen who appear to have the sole goal of destroying the middle class — and to get re-elected of course.

    • oldtack

      Dad-Gone! Iv’e read two of your posts today -and – I agree with both of them. You don’t think I might have bumped too close to the line and become a R -one of those do you? You name leftwing nutjob lawyers only but there are nutwing lawyers and Career Politicians on both sides. We definitely need Term limits and there needs to be a complete house cleaning on both sides of the aisle. My Congressman (GOP)was elected because he espoused no more than a two term Tenure. That was 20 years ago and he is entrenched so deep it would take TNT to uproot him – as it is with most of the Careerists there.

      • ObozoMustGo

        oldtack… common sense has prevailed. We must agree to agree on this one! Get all of them out. Term limits are the only way.

        Have a nice day!

      • ObozoMustGo

        oldtack… common sense has prevailed. We must agree to agree on this one! Get all of them out. Term limits are the only way.

        Have a nice day!

    • joyscarbo

      OH MY GOD!! Bozo…we actually AGREE on something!!! I believe that Congressmen and Senators should have term limits. Do away with their life long pensions too.

      • ObozoMustGo

        You see Joy, we are not as far apart as you think.

        Have a nice day!

  • 1olderbutwiser1

    I have a few more minutes here to rant a little more. You see the above where Trump warns, “massive inflation coming;? Let’s look at the truth of how the rich becone richer. They rely on inflated dollars paying off their debts. Think of it this way. You buy yourself two houses, government inflates the economy with printed dollars, you sell one, it pays off both. The fallacy is that there always has to be a sucker that buys the over-priced house, since if deflation comes, as it has in housing, then he’s the one who takes the beating…..it’s kind of like the ‘EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM” theory. Don’t be the late worm. Romney didn’t make his millions by buying assets and holding tham forever, he simply made bargain basement purchases look more attractive by having them go farther in debt, and then laying off that debt-ridden enterprise, one by one, to a sucker who thought in their grandiose dreams, that they could lake a go of it. Yes, many CEO’s are simply grandiose people and participate fully in a process in which the whole country is based on debt, how far in debt you can go to give an impression of success, and how long you can continue to go farther in debt. Best to not have any debt in these times, because when the phony corruption-laden market crashes, you will maybe become the penniless one, wondering what in the hell went wrong with your own grandiose dreams. Don’t be a dreamer, be a doer. Be conservative in life, take only reasonable chances where the odds are in your favor, and your enterprise is controlled by YOU, nobody else That’s the best odds of surviving today. Oh, and Ive been to trump’s casinos several times LOST EVERY TIME. Not too hard to see how trump makes his money.