Democrats & Liberals Archives

Make Them No Promises and You'll Tell Them No Lies

I know enough about politics and government to know that you shouldn’t expect specifics about real policy from a political campaign. You’ll always get answers divorced from context, divorced from what they really might try to do. It’s been my observation that many times having a politician keep promises is the worse thing for their constituents.

The phrase “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” comes to mind. So does the 455 billion dollar deficit that we all owe to Bush’s promised and delivered tax cuts. The obvious question arises:

“What would you have us do?”

Ask questions.

Hypotheticals. Philosophicals. Anecdotal. Questions that demand revealing answers, not just about the facts, but about the way the person in question deals with those facts.

That being, in fact, what we're really looking for from our candidate. That is, how their mind works, and how they will engage the problems and the situations they confront.

We, or our surrogates in the media must ask the questions that require critical thinking, substantial knowledge, and other kinds of attributes that contribute to good leaders.

It's not perfect. There will always be some problems which require extended research, and which it might interesting to read and hear people's responses to. Although instant responses will be of interest to certain politicians, a less academic version of this occurred during the recent convention, when Al Sharpton gave a bravura response to Bush's questions to blacks regarding their political loyalties. It can be a brilliant opportunity for candidates on both sides of the alleys to quickly and efficiently address voter concerns.

Why do this? Because good policy should be dictated less by prepared public relations, and more by the considered thought of those in office.

The reality is, the standard promises are mostly a fiction, which rarely deserve to be delivered. We certainly didn't need the drop in revenues at a time when we were going to war. Full scale wars like that always results in greater deficits. With the economy in uncertain condition, lowering taxes, while giving a mild economic boost, would not however pay for themselves.

The debt will have a negative effect on our economy. Was it worth Bush not repeating his father's mistake of breaking his "no new taxes" pledge? Was it worth him keeping the political orthodoxy, despite the very real effects? The Bush administration claims they just unlucky. They call it "an unfortunate confluence of events". Same damn thing. Only thing is, a number of those events were determined by Bush: The Medicare drug benefit, which went over a hundred billion dollars over budget, The War in Iraq, and the tax cuts. These are unambiguously the Bush Administration's responsibility.

The Business troubles that added to a drop in economic growth and the overall drop in revenues are not so unambiguously laid at Bush's feet, but many of the huge scandals have their roots in deregulation that Bush and his allies pushed for, and he was allied with many businessmen who the market never "punished" until it was too late. So in the end, Bush had a profound effect on the issues that came to fruition with his current deficit.

So it might have been useful to ask Bush about the particulars of his perspective before he got into office, more so than asking what his position on Tax Cuts were.

We know we're in trouble when our candidate's answers could be encoded onto a computer with a single bit of information. 0/1. Yes/No. For/Against. It's useful if you want to know nothing else, but knowing nothing else is often a liability.

If we are to confront the issues in a productive way, we should be committed to confronting them laterally, as well as head on. We need to know not just what our candidates stand for, but most importantly, how they come to stand for it, because the philosophy behind the policy positions often outlasts the positions themselves.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 30, 2004 8:38 PM