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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Taking Campaign Promises Seriously: Remember Renegotiating NAFTA?

Taking Campaign Promises Seriously: Remember Renegotiating NAFTA?

Friday, 20 January 2012 06:06

Ezra Klein tells us today that candidates take campaign promises seriously. I haven't reviewed the research, but it is easy to identify some important campaign promises that President Obama made over the course of his campaign that he clearly has not taken seriously while in office.

His pledge to renegotiate NAFTA was important in gaining support from manufacturing workers in many key primary states. This pledge was clearly never taken seriously once he got in the White House.

President Obama also promised to push for legislation that would allow for judges to rewrite the terms of home mortgages in bankruptcy. Any effort in this direction has been all but invisible since he entered the White House.

Finally, the public option portion of his health care plan clearly was not a priority for his administration. While he would have signed a bill that included a public option, he made it clear that he did not view it as an essential part of the plan.

Obviously there are promises that candidates feel little qualm about abandoning once they take office.

Comments (8)Add Comment
Klein Understands How Game Theory Explains Kept Promises by Pols
written by izzatzo, January 20, 2012 6:45
Any economist is familiar with the famous game theory known as Promisers Dilemma.

If one promiser breaks a promise while the other keeps a promise then the former is forced out of office while the other gets elected to replace the broken promiser.

If both keep their promise then both are re-elected. If both break their promise both are forced out.

While the natural self interest incentive is to break one's promise while forcing the other to keep a promise the forces of competition act to discipline both to keep their promises so both can stay in office for life with permanent re-election.

Stupid liberals.
dont take obama seriously
written by frankenduf, January 20, 2012 8:09
also he campaigned on creating 'green' jobs by stimulating infrastructure upgrades- quite a bitter broken promise for the unemployed
Another broken promise
written by Steve, January 20, 2012 8:16
He said during the campaign that if collective bargaining rights were threatened, he would put on his comfortable shoes and walk the picket lines with unions. Not only did he stay away from Wisconsin when precisely this situation arose; apparently the administration told Joe Biden, who wanted to go, to stay away as well.
One more
written by Steve, January 20, 2012 8:19
There is the little matter of Guantanamo bay.
written by Brett, January 20, 2012 10:14
Obama also promised to protect whistleblowers in his campaign, and he's launched the most aggressive attack of any President in trying to put them behind bars.

He promised to reject Telecom immunity in order to hold AT&T and others accountable for allowing Bush to spy on American citizens without warrants. Once he had the Democratic nomination clinched, he voted in favor of Telecom immunity on the Senate floor.

Obama promised he would use civilian courts to trial terrorism suspects, and not military commissions which make a mockery of the constitution's guarantee to "trial by jury." He did not uphold that promise, and he continues the practice of sending some people to military commissions (those they don't have strong evidence again) and others to civilian trials (those they have strong evidence against).

And he has continued Bush's practice of indefinite detention. In fact he codified it into law with the signing of the NDAA. He railed against this as a candidate.

I could go on and on...
written by Robert Waldmann, January 21, 2012 9:05
What Brett said. In contrast the examples in the post are unconvincig. We have "push for" and "priority".. In each case Congress broke Obama's promise. Then there is a renegotiate in whch Canada and Mexico had veotes.

The assertion that campaign promises matter is not the assertion that Presidents are elected dictators. The assumption that Obama controls Joe Lieberman ( who alone is responsible for the absence of medicare buy in which is like the public option but better) is absurd.
Sure they take promises seriously!
written by Hugh Sansom, January 22, 2012 8:10
Politicians take campaign promises very seriously . . . as a means to manipulate voters.

We know, conclusively (courtesy of Tom Daschle) that Obama had no intention whatsoever of supporting the public option for health care even as he was promising to support it during the campaign.

We should all be able to remember his promises to hold Bush war criminals accountable (admittedly, he did not call them war criminals). He refused even to investigate Bush wrongdoing.

He promised to close Gitmo — nope.

He promised to end the war in Iraq — did so only because Iraqis had had enough of Americans demanding a blank check for US war crimes.

Did he promise anything on Wall Street? If he did, either it was to shore up Wall Street billionaires or it was a promise he broke.

And all of this applies only to those promises made in a language that can actually be parsed in some specific way. Forget about all the vague handwaving about "American values" or "education for all" or anything of any kind for workers.
Let's try the Bill Clinton language. . .
written by Hugh Sansom, January 22, 2012 8:19
It depends on what you mean by "promise," "keep," "your," "I," and "will."

Let's go back to Izzatzo's point about game theory.

Can politicians credibly commit to keeping promises? Does anybody in the United States, does anybody on Earth, believe a promise made by an American politician? Do Arabs believe Obama supports democracy? Or rights for Palestinians?

Americans certainly don't say they believe their politicians. Or, rather, they say they don't believe other people's politicians. They evidently do believe their own, which is presumably part of the reason why they keep voting incumbents back in at rates that approach 90%.

So perhaps it doesn't really matter what the substantive content is of politicians' utterances. Maybe it's like music. Maybe it just has to have an overall quality pleasing to voters' ears. Maybe it's like cooing to a baby. Maybe American voters are just infantile morons who would vote for a dog's butt if it made the right sounds.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.