Overpromise Underdeliver

Barack Obama is having to dial back some of his campaign expectations:

(CNN) — In style and substance, Barack Obama is looking like he could be a different president than the candidate voters got to know during the campaign.

His message of changing the country has been replaced by one of repairing the country as he inherits crises that demand immediate action.

“I want to be realistic here,” Obama said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped.”

No, the waters aren’t receding. No, he’s probably not going to move us out of Iraq any faster than the Bush Administration did and as to this lady:

You’re still going to have to buy your own gas and pay your own mortgage. Sorry about that.

Obama’s sky high rhetoric has met cold reality. Obama’s over the top promises were never close to coming true. Young people who bought into this were ignorant. Older people who bought it were just plain stupid.

Of course, Obama’s not the first President in recent memory whose campaign promises had little to do with how he actually governed. One of the big reasons a lot of conservatives are ticked off at Bush is that Bush promised a lot and didn’t deliver all that much. Where’s my Social Security reform? Tax reform?

The results of this failure to deliver: disenchantment. Bill Clinton was a very different President from the one people thought they got in 1992, that and Ross Perot’s novelty wearing off led to 8 million less people voting in 1996. Many people disappointed with Bush stayed home in 2008. Obama can expect a drop off from people who didn’t get what they expected.

It seems that Presidential laundry lists are made to go unfulfilled. There are many reasons for this.

First, is Congress. Gridlock is not a bug in the way Congress works. The way it was designed by the Founders, and the way practices have developed, indicates that gridlock is a feature. Government can do stupid things, but if it’s going to do it through the legislative branch, it takes a lot of work.

Congress doesn’t have the time to act on a 40-piece agenda for the country. The legislative grist mill, and the fact that leaders in both houses have their own agendas, means that Congress simply will rarely have time to act on a huge laundry list.

Finally, the composition of Congress changes things. Who chairs what committee? It makes little sense to draw up detailed proposals when you may well be outflanked by a committee chairman. Conservatives have many complaints with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” but it couldn’t have helped being a better bill if there were 54 Senate Republicans (as there were before the 2000 election) rather than 50.

Outside of Congress, circumstances often force politicians to switch directions. Throughout Ron Paul’s campaign, he pointed out that Bush ran in 2000 against nation building and on a humble foreign policy. Of course, Bush wasn’t flip-flopping: 9/11 dictated a different course of action.

And now the economic crisis finds Obama unable to implement his plan for repealing the Bush tax cuts for the highest brackets, and carbon caps will probably have to wait, too.

Perhaps the lessons of the past three presidential elections are for everyone to run more humble campaigns. A candidate should have a few key priorities for their domestic agenda, but don’t wed themselves to 120 ideas as priorities. No President has the political capital to accomplish all of that. They can endorse ideas and say they’ll sign them if sent to them, but not to promise the items because the very people being wooed will feel betrayed sooner or later. The exception to this would be promises relating to personnel the President appoints.

Rather, in the ideal world, every candidate should have a few issues that they bring forward as true priorities that motivate them, and then voters make their decision based on those priorities, as well as the candidate’s values, philosophy, temperament, and leadership style.

The specifics change too much. When the campaign began on the Republican side in 2007, the big issue was illegal immigration, then the issue was energy, and now it is an economic crisis. The voter in Iowa or New Hampshire has no way of knowing what issue will be confronting the U.S. in a year and to make a good decision ultimately requires looking past the tunnel vision of the issue of the moment.