Robert Samuelson has an article today noting that the presidential candidates say things that will be virtually impossible to implement. He writes,
Candidates make alluring promises (to “fix the economy,” “defeat special interests” or “achieve energy independence”) and offer freebies to voters (more tax cuts, health care, college aid). … There’s a vast gap between the country’s problems and the candidates’ agendas and rhetoric. The candidates dissemble because they believe that Americans don’t want the truth. It would be too upsetting. They’re probably right.
He continues by noting that Presidents have very little power to control the massive economy, that dealing with budget deficit problems will require reduced spending or higher taxes, that high oil prices are largely outside of the President’s control, and that energy independence is a pipedream.
Many people recognize the disconnect between rhetoric and reality and it’s one reason politicians are often considered untrustworthy. But what’s the reason behind the disconnect? Samuelson suggests that the public doesn’t want to hear the truth. There’s something to that since the public would surely prefer to hear that public spending will increase, taxes will be reduced and the budget deficit will fall all at the same time.
However, another reason politicians cannot be more forthright is because of political retaliations. For example, John McCain said that he know less about the economy than he does about foreign policy. Given McCain’s extensive experience in foreign policy issues this is clearly a truthful statement. However, it is one statement McCain never should have made since now his opponents regularly proclaim that McCain himself says he doesn’t know anything about the economy.
Since rhetorical retaliations are used by all political parties equally, this suggests that the only “politically safe” posture for a politician to take is to assure the voters that you have answers for everything, and that your policies will have only benefits and will cost next to nothing. Or, if a policy proposal does cost something, that cost will be borne by the wealthy and never by the middle class or poor. It is politically foolish to claim anything else. Perhaps this is one reason truthful and realistic politicians never rise to the top.