October 7th, 2015 // 4:24 pm @ Oliver DeMille
by Oliver DeMille
Truths and Lies
Sometimes politicians tell the truth by accident. It just slips out of their mouth. And sometimes the truth they tell is extremely important. It might be a major national problem. Or a hidden agenda. But it is nearly always something we need to notice, ponder, and remember.
Such an accident happened just last week when President Obama, speaking of Hillary Clinton’s policy views on the Middle East, said he doesn’t consider her “half-baked,” but that “…I also think that there’s a difference between running for president and being president.”
In other words, if she were president, she would have a different policy than she does now as a candidate. She’s only saying what she is now because she’s trying to get votes.
Everyone already knows this, or at least suspected it, of course. But for the President to say it so clearly is real news. As a number of people in the media noted, his words confirm, again, that a lot of things candidates say and promise during elections are just campaign rhetoric, and once in office, they may do what they promised during the campaign…or they may not. We’ll just have to see.
That’s tough on voters. And it explains why a lot of voters are tired of politicians. They’re sick of being lied to, or at the very least manipulated into voting for someone making lots of campaign promises—only to watch such assurances go up in smoke after the election.
Promises Kept and Promises Broken
During a campaign for Obamacare (not running for office, but to get the law passed in Congress), the President declared that if you want to keep your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor. This turned out to be as false as a number of other campaign promises—by Republicans as well as Democrats. For example: “If you give us the Senate and the House, we’ll repeal Obamacare.” But they didn’t.
The list of such broken pledges is very long.
Moreover, many voters are extremely tired of it. In fact, it seems to many Americans that politicians have a kind of secret language—where they talk in “code” about what they promise to do; but of course other politicians and the national media understand the “code” and realize that after the elections…well, we’ll see. If the promise is convenient to implement, great. If not– oh, well….
But voters aren’t built this way. They want the words candidates say to matter. And they want the people they elect to be accountable to their campaign promises. If such words don’t matter, and candidates aren’t accountable, each citizen’s vote is deeply devalued. It means a lot less than it should.
Voters don’t want to be dupes of the Washington Insider Class. They don’t want to vote for the candidate who sounds the best, but doesn’t follow through. That’s just manipulation. They want their vote to really matter, to signal how they want their government to run and for the government to actually listen to their votes.
Otherwise it’s not really democracy, it’s just a popularity contest where the most convincing liar wins.
The Unspoken Code
That’s why President Obama’s words on this topic are so disturbing. To many voters, they sound like, “Say what you need to get elected, then you can do what you really want.” (In fact, he said something very much like this to a Russian leader before the 2012 election, and it was caught on camera.)
And deep down, that’s what the current campaign has been about—at least for the past four months. It may change, eventually. But for now, voters on both sides of the aisle are clearly fed up with any candidate who appears to be using the “special politician’s code”:
“Spout the politically correct position, use mind-numbing technical policy language, make sure you’re in the same club as the media, and grin and nod while you’re doing it.
“Unless it’s about a direct attack from your opponents (in which case spout the politically correct position) use mind-numbing technical policy language, make sure you’re in the same club as the media, and look shocked and stern while you’re doing it (also shake your finger a bit).”
The politicians follow this pattern so much that it’s become a bit of an art form. When voters see candidates using this unwritten “code,” many of them involuntarily recoil a bit.
When they see a candidate who doesn’t follow the “code,” it’s like a breath of fresh air. Such candidates only infrequently use political correctness, fall into policy-speak, or seem to be in some special secret club with members of the media. They don’t act like politicians.
Ultimately, as the President reminded us, the most important part of the “code” is remembering that “after the election, your campaign promises aren’t binding.” The opposite is strongly implied by the non-politicians: “After I’m elected, I’ll do everything I possibly can to implement my promises. I’ll make it my focus and my bond.”
Big difference. And many voters are closely watching this.