Poor Charlie Brown! Once a year, the comic strip icon believed his friend Lucy and trusted her to hold a football in place so he could kick it. And every year she broke her promise and pulled the ball away mid-kick. The result of his trust was always the same. He’d vault through the air and land on his backside. Charlie is an apt metaphor for American voters who believe promises from their chosen candidates every four years and experience a similar reward.
Presidential candidates make promises analogous to Lucy’s. They openly say, “vote for me and I will deliver the following changes.” They also say, “vote for me because my skills and experience make me the most qualified candidate.” Following are some of the most popular claims and promises of this year’s cycle, along with some thoughts on whether the candidates will “pull the football away” as Lucy always did.
Promise One: “My skills and experience as (1. A senator 2. A governor 3. A business executive 4. A former First Lady 5. Secretary of State or 6. A famous neurosurgeon) qualify me for the presidency.”
Comment: Experience only counts if it is the same or similar to the job of POTUS. The only people with that experience are Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney and Al Gore.
When Senator Barack Obama became president, his lack of administrative experience became painfully apparent during his first year. Senators have some knowledge of the president’s issues but haven’t managed large complex organizations. Their backgrounds demonstrate that they can “talk the talk.” However, they have no experience in managing multiple large teams. As presidents, they might be effective spokespeople for complex laws like the Affordable Care Act. But choosing a staff and subcontractors to design and implement a complex law requires skills outside of their backgrounds. Senators will argue that they can surround themselves with experts. In actual practice, the “experts” are usually narcissistic political hacks and outlier academics who provide information without accompanying wisdom.
Governors can bring state-level administrative experience. This background may be helpful, but it provides no knowledge or experience of foreign affairs and global strategies. Sharing command of a state’s part-time National Guard unit doesn’t qualify a governor to be Commander-In-Chief of the world’s most powerful military; nor does it offer skills relevant to the planning and financial underpinnings of defense programs. Governors spend nearly all of their efforts on “education, medication, and incarceration.” They are world-class experts in these three areas. But their experiences offer little else to qualify them as President.
A cabinet post like Secretary of State requires skills very similar to those of senators. It requires no executive responsibilities. It may offer added experience of diplomacy, extensive air travel, and relationships with second-level foreign leaders. Similarly, the unelected post of First Lady has virtually no value as a presidential qualification, other than planning menus for diplomatic events, or acting as the gatekeeper to buffer the president from unwanted conversations at diplomatic receptions.
CEOs of large corporations have skills that are similar—but not identical—to a US President. Compared to Presidents, however, CEOs have absolute authority to implement changes, to hire, and fire as they see fit. Ironically the President has much less power while having much greater responsibilities. Presidents must manage effectively despite impediments of political parties, Congress, and a Supreme Court that can approve or disapprove any controversial decision. No CEO has experience “selling” vital decisions to adversaries within their organization, often with backroom deals.
Promise Two: “I will reform the tax code.”
Comment: In every presidential election in recent memory, every candidate, from either party, has promised tax reform. But despite an apparent agreement that the tax reform is vital, the tax code has had no significant changes since 1981. Presidents have only fiddled with rate changes while creating new loopholes and tax credits favoring special interests.
Every presidential candidate hires an unnamed, faceless economist who writes a new tax plan, with fictitious numbers that seem positive to voters. Candidates then sell their tax plans on the campaign stump. After winning elections, Presidents file these plans, and never discuss them again. Even more disingenuous, opposing candidates use similar language around taxes but intend different results. Voters usually hate taxes and believe proposed changes are good for them personally. But when Democrats say “close the loopholes,” they mean “collect more tax revenue for government spending.” When Republicans say it, they mean raise more revenue to lower the national deficit or rebuild the military. Neither party means tax relief for middle-class taxpayers.
Promise Three: “I will get the economy going again, bring back jobs from China, and provide more income for every family.”
Comment: To all politicians—Stop perpetuating the fiction that presidents control the economy. The truth is that presidents can only make minor changes. 1. Presidents can implement executive programs that slow down the economy. 2. They can undo executive branch impediments that are slowing the economy. 3. They can appoint Federal Reserve members who affect the money supply. 4. They can lobby Congress for stimulus programs; that may provide short term effects. None of these actions bring jobs back from China. Positive effects of these actions are temporary at best. The economy is extremely complex, and business cycles automatically kick in to produce a good or bad performance. Narratives by presidents or candidates promising better economic conditions are fantasies. When their empty promises prove to be untrue, politicians respond by blaming the other party.
Current candidates have made many other promises that they will not fulfill. These include:
- Free college tuition and relief from the current $1.5 trillion of outstanding loans.
- Carpet-bombing ISIS.
- Ending the “War against Women” by providing free birth control to all.
- Halting immigration of one large religious group.
- Repeal of Obamacare.
- Ending violence against women by electing a woman president.
- Rounding up 12-million illegal immigrants and transporting them to Mexico.
- Nationwide increase of minimum wages to $15 or $20 an hour.
- Lowering taxes from the middle class by raising confiscatory taxes from billionaires.
The likelihood of politicians fulfilling these promises is equal to Lucy returning to comic strip life and apologizing to Charlie Brown for causing his back injuries.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX