November 25, 2020

Politicians Rarely Fulfill Their Promises. Is This The Same as Lying?

When President Obama won his first term, there was a lot of consternation on the right because they thought the end had come. I was a bit more realistic. I told those around me that, while Pres. Obama had made promises that many on the right would find intolerable, many of the things he proposed would not happen for a couple of reasons:

  • The President needs legislation– which rarely looks like what the President promises. This is amplified if the President and the branches of Congress are in different hands.
  • Once you become President, you have a better understanding of why some things you may be for/against cannot be done because of practical matters.

Knowing what I know now, I’d add a third thing– that the administrative state of unelected bureaucrats don’t change anything rapidly. Government is a slow moving entity in many ways.

I was having an interesting conversation on Twitter with @ToddHarding_17 regarding abortion and the two candidates, and this is where it ended up:

This was the primary motivation of many people that did not vote for President Trump in 2016 to vote 3rd party. They didn’t know if Pres. Trump would be liberal, conservative, or other because he was running self-funded, and he’d changed parties over his life time. It was the primary motivation I had for voting for him, because I believed that if you weren’t tethered to lobbying groups, you would only be bound by your word to the people. And for Trump, if he wanted adoration of people, he would have to keep his word.

Is this lying?

Failing to keep one’s word or promises is not the same as lying. It’s failing to live up to your word. It’s a sign of poor character, but it is not lying. Lying requires willfully saying something that one knows not to be true, or leaving out something that, if said, would be true. That’s why you swear in court to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth– because you can tell the truth in a way that sounds differently than what it should.

The Bible says that we should say, “If the Lord wills we will do this or that” (James 4:15) because we don’t know what the future holds, and it keeps us humble.

Those running for political office, especially the office of the Presidency, are far from humble, and they are promising things that they will not likely keep. We don’t know if Biden or Trump will live to see the end of 2020, so we certainly don’t know if Biden will see the start of the Green New Deal or Trump will see America Great Again.

Promises Made Are Directional

That being said, promises made are directional, meaning that they are indicating your intentions and where you would take the nation if you could lead them in your preferred manner. When a politician says that they are going to make sure America is Carbon Neutral by 2035 or whatever, that’s practically an impossible promise barring an EMP, an asteroid hit, or Christ’s return. To do that, they’d have to have enough votes to get everything they want through the various branches of Congress, and have the rest of the world not do anything to us while we voluntarily sent ourselves back to grass huts.

It’s not going to happen, at least not that fast, but it’s the direction that Biden wants to take us in, and it’s what he’ll be working for, albeit at a shorter pace.

And it could also be bluster to win a certain percent of the voting public, with no intention to actually carry through. This could mean that it’s a low priority item that might not get done (like Pres. Obama closing GITMO) that you just talk up with no intention of doing it. Now this would be closer to a lie, and I could be persuaded that a politician that says he is going to do something he has no intention of doing it could be lying.

The problem with this is that your followers remember what you promised, and will often call you on it.

What about this election?

Will Biden or Trump be able to fulfill their promises? With the government as divided as it is, it’s unclear whether any President will be able to fulfill their promises. It is looking like there may be a four vote margin in the House supporting the Democrats. This leaves a very strong possibility that Pelosi may not be Speaker of the House again, and that very little will get done. They say the Senate control is coming down to the races in Georgia, which should go to the Republicans, but this is 2020.

So each side will have razor thin margins, which is not what you need to accomplish audacious goals. In 2022 it may be worse for Democrats, as this is a redistricting year and the Republicans own more state houses, so predicting a Republican House in 2023 is not that crazy of a prediction.

Defections from the parties by moderates, pressure from back home, and the nature of the election probably means all the big promises will probably not be kept. The executive orders will happen, as both sides tend to flex the office of the Presidency to enact will more than the last, so that is the only real wild card here.

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