Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Campaign Promises

"Vote for the man who promises least, he'll be the least disappointing."
Bernard Baruch

Baruch nailed it, but it's a pessimistic view and government already suffers from an excess of pessimism. We've accepted the view that campaign promises are merely part of the drill, something not to be taken seriously and certainly not anything to be actually expected. But if not that, then what? If a man is not measurable by what he says, then what guidelines are there during his term of office, other than the blind hope that he'll struggle through somehow and not sell us into war or depression or be indicted for yet another crime of omission.

It sometimes seems we've given reality over completely to theatre, as you and I nod and cheer and vote for a candidate who promises to cut our taxes and reduce the deficit. With what? Keep our lifestyle, pay less down on the credit cards and end up owing less? It can't be done. Yet we never question the rhetoric, just stand by and blink our trusting eyes as the debt we owe the world quadruples during one administration.

It's not so much the rhetoric that poses a danger, it's our willingness to buy into image over content. Politicians have learned to live by the polls, to spread the broadest subterfuge among the largest constituency. That's what works, that's the way to get elected. You and I have taught them how to get elected and all they've done is listened, found out what most of us want to hear and told us what we beg to hear. They know it's not possible, they know we don't really expect a delivery of promises. As long as the country doesn't fall apart during their administration, anything goes.

The scriptwriters of American politics are pretty much a function of this century. Prior to that time, presidents wrote their own speeches and some of them were incredibly skilled at it and others not so, but whether it flowed like music or scraped its way across the page, it was the word of the man. These words in this book are my words, good or bad, outrageous or sensible. They were not written by others, not conceived in a conference and test-marketed for an appropriate audience. A man should be able to write his own thoughts . . . a man asking to be elected to the office of president should be made to.

To promise farm subsidies in the south and agricultural independence in the cities is dishonest. To rage against abortion in the bible-belt and support women's choice at a Wellesley graduation is intellectually deceptive. To cut the gasoline tax and promise to fix Amtrak is a joke. All of the issues considered on these pages are complicated and their solutions, if there are solutions, are not any president's to promise. But at the very least, we should demand a sense of logic and expect a presidential candidate to explain rather than flim-flam those solutions.

For my own part, I would like to see every presidential candidate explain himself and his thoughts in writing on the major issues that affect our nation. If elected, I'd expect him to have the guts and confidence in me as a voter to tell me where and how and why his views may have changed from a stated position and why. We are realists, we voters and the issues are not too complicated for our understanding. We know things change, that certain goals cannot be quickly realized. We understand that politics is the art of the possible, but the current acceptance of any foolishness spoken in the name of getting oneself elected can only prove that we deserve to fritter away the control of our own destiny.

Get it in writing.