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Sep 06 2012

Keeping Political Promises

“Politicians are always making promises, but they never keep them.”

I don’t have a lot of use for political cynicism. I said so four years ago.

Obama isn’t perfect. He’s progress.

Obama and his policies are progress that we desperately need right now. Every moderate to liberal politician we send to D.C. with him is forward motion. Each step we take in pushing those politicians to enact his platform is one step out of the mire.

No, the candidates were not the same then. They’re certainly not the same now.

Another one of those cynical political tropes that pisses me off is the idea that it doesn’t matter what a politician says because they all lie. They just tell us whatever we want to hear, doncha know. The problem with that theory is that they don’t.

Sure, most politicians paint pictures for our collective futures that rely on events beyond their direct control. They talk in generalizations and abstracts. Most of them, however, also share specific plans. They have to. They have demanding constituencies they have to satisfy in order to get an endorsement.

We can also keep track of these promises, which Politifact did for Obama.

Color-coded chart with one square for each promise. More than half green for promises kept or compromises made.Our scorecard shows Obama kept 37 percent of his promises. He brought the war in Iraq to a close and finally achieved the Democratic dream of a universal health care program. When the United States had Osama bin Laden in its sights, Obama issued the order to kill.

Sixteen percent are rated Broken, often because they hit a brick wall in Congress. Global warming legislation passed the House but died in the Senate. He didn’t even push for comprehensive immigration reform. His program to help homeowners facing foreclosure didn’t even meet its own benchmarks. (PolitiFact rates campaign promises based on outcomes, not intentions.)

With four months left in Obama’s term, PolitiFact has rated Obama’s remaining promises Compromise (14 percent), Stalled (10 percent) or In the Works (22 percent).

Click on the categories in the excerpt to see ratings on the individual promises. Looking at the chart, however, you can see that orange (broken or stalled promises) is a distinct minority. It is dwarfed by dark green (promises kept outright). Promises kept and compromises made together make up more than half the chart.

There is nothing about being a politician that makes a person unable to keep all their promises. Some? Yes, but not all. The promises a politician makes matter. Pay attention to them.

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  1. 1
    Nathaniel Frein

    Faced with a similar challenge, it took Roosevelt three terms to make real progress fixing the economy, and he didn’t have nearly the kind of constant resistance Obama did.

  2. 2
    nichrome

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at these two statements:

    “Obama isn’t perfect. He’s progress.” & “…finally achieved the Democratic dream of a universal health care program.”

    As an American who moved to Canada 5 years ago due to the corrupt political system I am desperately sorry that you have to grasp at the notion that Obama represents “progress”.

    For a good rundown of this fallacy of progress, just read this column by Glenn Greenwald.

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    In very few, mostly trivial, ways does Obama represent progress.

    Mostly, he represents the status quo, with a few forward steps in obscure fields and some major backward leaps in more vital areas.

    He brought the war in Iraq to a close …

    But somehow forgot to tell the Iraqis – or the 50,000 uniformed troops and unknown thousands of mercenaries still “holding the fort” there.

    … and finally achieved the Democratic dream of a universal health care program.

    The Democrats need some better dope, if a piecemeal, Republican-originated, half-assed mess like the PPACA, which does nothing to control costs or stop profiteering, is the best they can dream (while remaining steadfastly blinkered to all single-payer/Medicare-for-all options).

    During his time in DC, GWBush managed to arrest, prosecute, and convict three major financial criminal operations (Enron, Stafford, & Madoff. That’s three more than Obama has even attempted to bring to justice.

    Of course, Rmoney remains worse.

  4. 4
    iknklast

    I looked at the two candidates honestly, based on my important issues. Obama broke many promises in what I consider one of the most important areas – environment. He didn’t bother to keep others. I don’t think Romney will be better, but here’s my breakdown, for what it’s worth:

    Women – clearly Obama.
    Economy – sort of Obama.
    Minority rights – Obama, but only sorta, since he mostly seems not to be making it worse
    Religion – draw – sometimes we’re better to have a true minority religion, but Romney dumped Ryan on the ticket. Obama panders on that, but even that can be dangerous.
    Environment – no, no, no, no!!!! Obama has been terrible; Romney will be terrible.

    Conclusion: I live in a deep, dark red state. Thanks to the electoral college, no matter who I vote for, my vote will go to Romney. I’m going to vote Third Party, because if the day comes that my vote would give Obama my state, he won’t need it. We’d be about 45th on the list of states he’d get, we have very few electoral votes, he’d already have swept the nation.

    I will vote Third Party because I need to show both parties that they are not doing what needs to be done to earn my vote. I think everyone living in a state that is safely in the red, that Obama hasn’t got a prayer in hell of winning no matter how many times he says “God Bless America”, should do the same. It won’t change his election chances, but it might give the Democrats cause to sit up and say WTF? Then maybe they’ll realize we’re serious.

  5. 5
    jeff

    I’m not sure that Obama represents progress. He did manage to squeak by a healthcare bill which will make a difference. He has been bad on war, bad on civil liberties, bad on the war on drugs, mediocre on the environment and the list goes on.

    However, Romney likely represents regress. There is no issue on which Romney appears better and on some he appears worse.

    On a separate note, the fact that presidential candidates have increasingly discovered the advantages of lying or ditching campaign promises quickly is a significant problem for a democracy or quasi democratic republic especially when coupled with increasing congressional spinelessness and incapacity.

    And Obama, GW Bush, and Romney are significantly worse in this regard than Gore, Clinton, Dole, Bush, Reagan, Mondale and Dukakis.

  6. 6
    MV

    Is it really news that candidates keep some promises? Or many? Even for those who say they don’t?

    Some people react to the distance between the unrealistic promise and the reality. Others to what promises were kept and how they were kept. And over time, they likely concentrate on a few issues that are important to them. So if those don’t work out, then the candidate “failed to keep their promises”.

    But I certainly wouldn’t rely on Politifact for a scorecard considering their stellar record. For instance, they can’t tell the difference between universal coverage and universal access. We have the latter.

  7. 7
    AMM

    The whole question of whether Obama is “progress” or not is based on a huge misconception about how things get changed.

    You don’t get progress by electing a President. You get progress by changing the views of the majority of the people so that they see your vision of progress as the only reasonable way to do things. One example is same-sex marriage: it didn’t happen because major politicians decided to be progressive and vote for it. No major politician was willing to take on such a hot potato — until the polls showed that a majority of their constituents thought it was just fine.

    That’s not to say that a regressive politician, if elected, can’t do a lot of damage, or that a bunch of them can’t hold positive change up for a long time. But IMHO, the real problem is that so many people in the USA think that what people like Romney are proposing is reasonable. _That’s_ where progress is lacking.

  1. 8
    The Candidates Talk Science | Almost Diamonds

    [...] I mentioned how important it is to pay attention to what a candidate promises, because those promises are often kept. If you haven’t already, it’s time to go see what the presidential candidates had to [...]

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