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The Positive Power of Broken Promises

Feb
13
2008

Although it is too early to write an official post-mortem on the Bush administration, it is worth taking a look back at the last eight years – from George Bush the candidate, who showed signs of promise as a uniting centrist governor to George Bush the president, who is regarded as a dividing and bumbling – to gauge the currently dwindling stock of presidential contenders.

Most Americans will agree that the presidency of George W. Bush was been rather a disappointment. For conservatives, George Bush will be derided for pursuing liberal policies like immigration reform, and in the long eye of history, a Medicare prescription drug benefit which will bankrupt the system even earlier than projected. Liberals deride the President for overseeing two recessions and sending our country to war.

Folks like myself, who kind of supported President Bush from the beginning will be disappointed with him more for his failure to achieve Social Security reform, immigration reform and making his tax cuts permanent. These failures derive from what is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness: consistency.

In presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, President Bush promised to lower taxes, fix Social Security, give prescription drugs to seniors, win the war in Iraq and make housing more affordable. You can’t say he hasn’t delivered on these promises – or at least tried. You may not like the man, but you cannot charge him with changing his positions.

Normally, that would be a virtue in politics, but what we’ve seen with the Bush Administration is that our leaders must be able to adapt to change in order to affect it.

So when I look to the candidates in the running for President now, I weigh them in this light: Do they possess a consistency verging on obstinacy, or are they someone who can read the tea leaves of changing times and provide effective leadership?

As a Republican, my natural instinct should be to look at our front-runner through the prism of the last eight years. Senator John McCain holds his hard-headedness and consistency up as his greatest quality – even when he doesn’t walk the walk. In his come-to-Jesus speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican front-runner equivocated his positions so widely that you could drive a truck through the exit clauses he added to his promises to the Conservative base. But at least they’re promises he won’t break!

On the flip-side, there is the candidate of change, Barack Obama. With so few accomplishments in the United States Senate, you would hope that Obama would give potential voters more than flourishing rhetoric. But when even my Democrat friend, “Blond David” says Obama lacks substance and doesn’t say anything, you have to worry. The blond isn’t just referring to David’s hair color! I do know that Obama has become the most liberal United States Senator during his campaign for President and that alone is unsettling.

Which brings us to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Watching her pander to Democratic voters before the California primary, I had to cringe at visions of higher taxes, government healthcare programs and more. But based on President Bill Clinton’s White House record, I can apply familiar logic: if you don’t like her positions today, just wait awhile and they will change again.

In eight years in office, Bill Clinton gained a reputation for being a flip-flopper, a label which has become synonymous with Democratic candidates ever since. It’s true he changed his positions, quite a bit either to triangulate between the extremes of the Liberal Left or Conservative Right or to adopt policies that, well, most Americans wanted.

The poll-driven governing that defined the Clinton years is not exactly leadership, but it’s better than sticking to your guns when they’re out of ammo, as President Bush has done. If Sen. Clinton can show even hints of such crass pandering to the will of the people, she’ll deserve a second look – even from this Republican.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:50 AM | Permalink

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