December 15, 2015

When Presidential Candidates Promise the Impossible

When Barack Obama was running for president the first time on a platform of hope and change, I do not recall having serious doubts about him being able to accomplish most of what he said he wanted to do. Hmm...that last sentence seems ambiguous and unclear. Let me try again. While I do recall being skeptical about some of what he said he wanted to do because I doubted that his party would be able to persuade enough Republicans to join them in passing legislation, I was not skeptical about his ability to accomplish any of what he said he wanted to do. I figured there was some of it that could probably be accomplished.

I don't feel this way about Donald Trump, as I think it is unlikely that a President Trump would be able to accomplish most of what he says he wants to do. Some of it is almost certainly unconstitutional; some of it is just too moronic to imagine any government implementing. And even though the Democratic Party demonstrated how ineffective they are as an opposition party when they went along with George W. Bush in eroding many of our rights, I have to think that they could derail the worst parts of Trump's claimed plans if they saw fit to do so. Needless to say, I'm far more skeptical about Trump's ability to accomplish much of what he claims he would do than I was with Obama.

I wish I could say that my appraisal of Sen. Bernie Sanders' chances of accomplishing much of what he says he wants to do more closely resembled by assessment of Obama than Trump, but I cannot. I like Sanders. Of the current presidential candidates in the two large parties, his positions on the issues most closely match my own. And yet, I see little chance that he would be able to accomplish much of what he says he wants to do as president. The Republican Party has demonstrated that they are an extremely effective opposition party, managing to stop much of President Obama's agenda and derailing Congress. I have to think they'd be even more effective in stopping the far more liberal agenda of a President Sanders.

I'm not saying any of this to equate Sanders and Trump. That would be silly. I'm also not saying it because I think that either Trump or Sanders is going to be our next president. I don't think either will be nominated by their respective parties. I'm saying it because I think voters have a tendency to get caught up in what a candidate is promising without pausing to critically evaluate the plausibility of success at keeping such promises. I see Sanders as being far more sincere than Trump in the sense that I believe he really wants to do most what he says he wants to do. I'm doubtful that this is true of Trump. At the same time, I find it difficult to imagine a President Trump or a President Sanders being able to deliver on most of their claimed agendas.

Does this matter to voters? Should it matter? I suppose that will depend on the voter, and I'm not sure there is one right answer. I wouldn't vote for Trump just because I don't think he can deliver on his promises, and I wouldn't refrain from voting for Sanders just because I don't think he'd be able to accomplish most of his agenda as president. And yet, I cannot help finding the question of whether a candidate can deliver on their promises to be at least somewhat relevant.