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Campaign Promises: Are They Simply a Hook to Catch Voters?

Often, politicians win elections, particularly against incumbents, by offering grand things. Ah yes, Ye Olde Campaign Promise. And often, we criticise them for not following through with them. We do this with every member of the political spectrum, often with good reason, from city councilmen to the President, and the higher up you go on this ladder the stronger, harsher, and more often those criticisms are.

We are three months into the Biden presidency, and already we’re hearing claims about Biden not following through on his promises. Many of the things he’s being called out for were promises for the first one hundred days, but were general campaign promises before that.

I:Biden’s Recent “Failure”

The Senate’s failure to include the federal guarantee of a $15 minimum wage hit headlines in recent weeks, and many are attacking President Biden for this "oversight." It was proposed as an amendment to President Biden’s COVID relief package and was shot down 42-58 in the Senate. Regardless of your opinion on the policy, or even the President, this was not Biden’s fault. Yes, he promised it. Yes, he fought for it. And yes, people voted for him believing this would happen. However, if you respect the democratic process that elected Biden and if you respect the President himself as well, then respect him enough to learn that this was not his fault. The President and the Congress are two separate entities. Biden should not have the ability to intervene in Senatorial business.

The fact that the Senate is a 50/50 split has been beaten into our heads. Why did it not get a 50/50 split vote, leading to the Vice President’s tie breaking vote? Because of moderates. No matter what, Senator Joe Manchin, a popular - moderate - Democratic Senator from West Virginia (a state in which Trump won 68.8% of the vote) would have never voted for this amendment. Neither would Senator Sinema, of Arizona, or any other Democrat from a state that voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020. Why? Reelection. They were elected as moderates, they vote moderate, and then they win reelection being a moderate.

Those two, Senators Manchin and Sinema, break with the Democratic party more than any other Senator, according to the Arizona Mirror with Sen. Sinema breaking about 30% of the time. Sure, it’s great that they can reach across the aisle, but their failures to represent their party get passed as Biden’s failures. That goes as a simple truth for every president, in all fairness, but to the Democrats this trifecta (Presidency, the House, and Senate) may be temporary. They could lose the House and/or the Senate in 2022, meaning practically any legislation the President needs to get done will be stripped of use or blocked entirely. This is why this is not President Biden’s fault. The seven democrats and the one independent that voted against Senator Sanders’ $15 amendment are the reason this failed. And, even had Biden used his decades-long influence, they still needed 60 to pass this, which would have been impossible.

II: First 50 Days

Associated Press recently released an article going over the status of Biden’s 100 Days promises at the halfway mark. As expected, there are both good and bad things to take note of. Biden passed over a dozen executive orders in January, on Inauguration Day alone actually, and some more in February. These dealt with COVID, the WHO and the Paris Climate Accord, economic policies, the border, and immigration. Despite this, these were not comprehensive laws meant to last us at least 4 years, these were just reversals of Trump-era policies or decisions put in place that Biden promised to remove. These aren’t pieces of legislation, these aren’t plans. They’re emergency orders the president can use, and Biden used them.

If you want to criticize Biden not following through on his promises for his first 100 Days, then give him recognition when he does. Firstly, his 100th day in office isn’t until next month - it’s like your teacher getting mad that you haven’t turned in an assignment early, there’s still time to do it. Secondly, in regards to his COVID response, Biden is fairing considerably well. They are, by now, well over their vaccine promise. Biden wanted to have 100 million doses of the vaccine delivered to the American people by his 100th day, and he’s on track to meet that goal just 58 days in. This is something, regardless of your political beliefs, to be proud of and acknowledge.

With all this in mind, let us not reprimand the President for not having gotten anything done yet. He hasn’t even been in office for 100 days; not only does Biden have time to get things done still, he actually has done quite a bit. And sure - one can blame him for the $15 minimum wage controversy, and if you blame him for it, let me ask you a question. How would Joe Biden have secured 10 conservative votes for it? In what way could Joe Biden sway not only the moderates of his own party, but 10 moderate Republicans needed as well? It’s simply a poorly rooted argument.

III: Presidential Promises of the Past

A 2016 article on (a trusted pollster) compiled decades worth of polls, data, and facts, and found that US presidents keep about 67% of their campaign promises. I want to dissect this. I believe there’s good and bad things about this, it’s all subjective, but 67% is not horrible. When you think about every little thing a Presidential hopeful wants to accomplish, we should be happy about 67%.

This article was written before Trump was president, and you could say that it’s no longer a viable piece because the political stage has been completely changed by the Trump era, and that may be true, but it’s not a reason to throw out decades of knowledge of how Presidents behave. And, the truth is, we don’t know the long lasting effects on the political scene because of Trump because he was president 3 months ago - there hasn’t been enough time to really say what his impact will be; yes, it will be large, no one will doubt that, but the exact qualities of his impact? Not yours or mine to say. This article and statistic, for all intents and purposes, is trustworthy.

IV: Big Picture Promises vs Vague Plans

“Lock Her Up”

“Drain The Swamp”

“Repeal And Replace”

“Build The Wall”

“Stop The Count”

These, among others, are President Trump’s most famous three word catchphrases. Many people elected him based on the first three, and I included the final one as a closer within recent memory. With few exceptions, those were the campaign promises of candidate Trump. How many of those really got done? None. First off, nothing has happened to Secretary Clinton. Drain the swamp? I hear “replace corrupt politicians with the businessmen funding them”. And, very little of the swamp was drained in the first place- Kermit’s still kicking it. “Repeal and Replace?” This one may be a little less known, but its results would have been much more catastrophic than anything else. This was the phrase supporting the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act- Obamacare. There’s a video showing the exact moment the GOP’s movement to do this failed, it was when Senator John McCain of Arizona gave a silent thumbs-down vote to Senatorial clercs. This specific thing wasn’t Trump’s fault - see my point about Biden and the Senate earlier. “Build The Wall”: or, if you’d prefer, repair some pre-existing fences, build some prototypes, and secure partial funding while building hardly anything else.

In four years I’ll be making the same claims about Biden. Why aren’t I now? Well, Trump had years to get his promises fulfilled, 2 of which had a Republican house and Senate majority - Trump had time. Biden’s had 60ish days.

Here’s the issue. What was the Trump presidency if his biggest goals never got fulfilled? Therein lays one of the main issues with campaign promises - big picture goals against important little causes. When counting that earlier number of 67%, you have to include simple promises like raising or lowering tariffs, decreasing government spending, simple things that get done fairly quickly for government standards that ultimately are the backbone of that 67%. It doesn’t matter that the wall didn’t get built, or that Obamacare is still in place, or this and that, Trump statistically speaking did much of what he said he would do, just not the most popular things. It’ll be the same way for Biden, just like every past and future president- their main goals likely won’t get done if the goal is very explicit. Saying you’re going to fix “crisis X” is different then proposing “solution y.” “Solution Y” may be more popular, but “ending crisis X” would be less politically damaging for all parties involved- it tosses the actual policy making down the road, when you’re in office and able to do things, and even if you’re elected, “Solution Y” may be not be something that could pass in Congress. I’m simplifying things. Fill “X” in with any issue, whether it be tariffs or the military, and have “Y” be raising or lowering the tariff, doing this military operation or that one or neither, and that’s what happens with campaign promises. The bigger the goal, the less likely it is to happen.

V: Congress- A Guide

Congress is where all political ambition goes to die. Congress is the reason the wall was never built, and why a $15 minimum wage is for another day. Congress may not be the most glamorous position a young politician could want, but it’s the most effective to harness your power. It does not matter who is President. If something doesn’t get through Congress, then it is left with Congress, not the President.

We already talked about the Moderate Democrats and their reelection needs, and how progressive platforms destabilize the chances of reelection. But, much of the argument I made about that was centered on the fact that the Democrats currently control Congress and the Presidency. That’s not always the case. Let’s look, again, to the last administration. Prior to 2019, the Republicans had a Trifecta. The House was won by the Democrats in the 2018 midterms, and so for the last few years of Trump’s presidency, he was not sending bills to Paul Ryan, but to Nancy Pelosi; with Democrats controlling half of the legislative process, of course Trump was unable to get big picture items done then. Much of Obama’s 8 years was dealt with juggling bipartisan bills just to get things through Congress. Midterm elections are almost always a check on the President- 2014, Republicans won to check Obama. 2018, Democrats win to check Trump. What will happen in the 2022 midterms? We don’t know. Based on past presidencies, we assume it’ll be good for the Republicans, but we don’t know. Based on recent election results, it could be good for the Democrats just as easily. This is why Presidents “fail” to uphold campaign promises. They aren’t gods that can do what they want- and that’s great. Congress and the Presidency are separate and have been separated since 1789 for this reason- to avoid hegemony, to avoid giving one man all the power in the country. Don’t blame the President when Congress is half of the decision making. We elect a president for four years, but two years later, we elect people to be a thorn in their side.

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