Friday, April 6, 2012

The Campaign Promise... broken?

Presidential candidates who have never held the office love to promise the world to the people of the United States. They promise an open administration that will work for the people and listen to the people. They typically promise to be a peoples President then it seems once they get into the office, the doors close and few of those promises are upheld. Proof can be seen in the Obama administration. No matter what your feelings on the President the reality is he promised transparency in his administration and we've seen little of that over the last four years. It seems that this problem and others have been going on with Presidents for the last two hundred years. 

I came across this editorial from the New York Evening Post, dated February 2, 1808. It was the final year of Thomas Jefferson's administration and it seemed in some circles people were angry over  some empty promises he had made before he became President. The editorial reads as follows:

"The eight years of Mr. Jeffersons administration are about to expire. He came to the presidency, by affecting to rely upon the intelligence of the people. He endeavours to retain their good opinion, by keeping then in darkness! He affected to wish for what his friend Tom Paine would call an age of reasonpolitical reason, and he demands a blind confidence! Unable to justify his measures, he asks of the nation to be governed by an implicit faith in the propriety of an Act, which ruins many, and distresses all! "A republican government should have no secrets," was once his doctrine. The people shall know nothing is now his practice. The miserable wretch who is led to the gibbet is permitted to know his crime—but the nation is to be led hoodwinked to its destruction. When the sufferers—the unhappy victims ask, and it is impossible for them to avoid asking, why is this vial of wrath poured upon us, "He is a Tory—under British influence"—"settle your accounts and be ruined" is the reply. Yes, it requires all the confidence—all the faith, of which a stupid party bigotry is capable to approve of this terrible desolation.—The justification of this dreadful butchery of the political body, requires indeed the sacrifice of all the pride, and all the liberty, and all the good sense of the nation."

It's clear this individual felt Jefferson failed as a transparent President. So the question is did Jefferson break his campaign promises? Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, agreed. In an op-ed piece in the LA Times (2008) he stated that the first broken campaign promise started with Jefferson in 1800 with his promise to reduce federal power and then turned around and purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803. This move by most all historians is seen as a direct and blatant violation of his promise to reduce executive power and place more control in the hands of the states. In purchasing "an empire" Ellis stated that Jefferson had to "become an imperial president." From Ellis' analysis he was able to determine that two Presidents backed up what they claimed, the first being George Washington and the second was the unlikely James K Polk. 

As Ellis stated on NPR, as far as most historians are concerned, Polk is one of the better Presidents this country ever had. I can back up Ellis' claim because Polk is in my top ten Presidents of all time. He campaigned on four promises: 1) Reestablishment of Treasury, 2) Reduce Tariffs, 3) Acquire Oregon Territory, 4) Acquire California and New Mexico. Not only did Polk accomplish these very specific goals but he did not even seek a second term as President. He told the nation that he accomplished what he set out to do and was done. 

So with such a small percentage of Presidents that actually accomplish what they claim they are going to do, what should we honestly expect from our Presidential candidates? It seems like based on history, not much. So as the Presidential candidates appear on television and in newspapers take their claims of what they will do with a grain of salt, it's more than likely they are not going to do it.

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