Have you ever noticed that both Democrats and Republicans campaign against higher taxes, yet taxes go up? They both campaign in favor of a balanced budget, yet we get larger deficits? With the 11 presidents in my lifetime, one nearly consistent theme emerges — the broken campaign promise.
Lyndon Johnson said, "We are not about to send American boys nine or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." Soon thereafter, he escalated the Vietnam war until hundreds of thousands of Americans were fighting in the jungles.
Remember when George H.W. Bush, in accepting the nomination at the Republican convention, famously shouted: "Read my lips. No new taxes." The crowd went wild, he was elected, and taxes went up.
While not about matters that were particularly presidential in nature, President Clinton, it will be remembered, almost certainly lied under oath, leading to his disbarment.
George W. Bush on his campaign website said, "As President, Governor Bush will pay the debt down to a historically low level." Under his presidency, the debt soared to a couple hundred billion more than a record $7 trillion. While his campaign website promised "Governor Bush's income tax cuts will benefit all Americans, but they are especially focused on low and moderate income families," millionaires under President Bush received an average tax cut of about $123,000, while the bottom fifth on the income scale saved about $27 on average.
Thus far, President Obama seems to be refreshingly different.
He promised to end the combat role in Iraq. Within the last few weeks, it has ended. Maybe not as fast as some would have hoped, but he set a deadline, which some opposed, and he stuck to it.
When President Obama campaigned, he said he'd increase our military presence and our commitment to the Afghan war. Maybe that is bad policy or maybe it is a good idea, but he fulfilled that campaign promise.
He promised sweeping health care legislation to extend health insurance to as many uninsured persons as possible, among other goals. That law has passed. Maybe the new bill is a bad idea, maybe it is imperfect, maybe it will be too expensive and maybe it won't work well — but he said he'd do it, and he did.
Everyone knew that if given the chance, President Obama would appoint left leaning people to fill any vacancies on the Supreme Court. Maybe his appointees have faults, maybe they are too liberal, or too political, and maybe they won't pan out well — but we knew he'd do this, and he did. No one can claim surprise at these nominations.
He said he'd try to push the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to sit together and talk peace. Maybe that is unrealistic and maybe it's not the right approach, but the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government have just agreed to sit down and hold bilateral talks for the first time since before President Obama took office, with pushes from former Sen. George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The President said he'd get Congress to extend unemployment benefits. Maybe it's too expensive, or maybe people are lazy and should be kicked off the rolls, but he did what he said he'd do.
When the banks and financial sector were in serious trouble, President Obama's government intervened, and he said he'd get new laws passed to prevent this type of collapse in the future. Maybe that is the wrong way to go about it. Maybe the financial houses and banks should have been allowed to fail, and maybe the new law is a poor idea and won't work. But, he said he'd do it, and he did.
He said he'd reach out to the Muslim world to try to establish good relations. His first speech abroad was in Cairo, and his stance in favor of the mosque being built a few blocks from ground zero reflects that approach. The foreign policy implications of the federal government moving to ban that mosque would have had far reaching effect in Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other more moderate Arab states.
He said he'd push for tougher sanctions against Iran. Maybe we need to bomb them, ignore them or coddle them. But he got the tougher sanctions, with the aid of China and Russia. President Obama said he would try to lift trade sanctions against Cuba, and the administration has just made that proposal official.
Again on the domestic front, shortly before the election, President Obama said he'd get his kids a dog. He even did that, although, truth be told, he initially suggested it would be a "rescue" dog, rather than a purebred.
So, whether you like the president or not, whether he survives politically or not, whether you approve of the policies or not it is at least a bit refreshing to have someone campaign, make a promise, and stick to it.
Irwin E. Weiss is an attorney in Baltimore. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.