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Presidential Overpromising

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"Presidential Overpromising"

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I find myself with only one tiny dissent* from James Suroweicki’s post on Obama Year One and especially liked this part:

The problem I think Obama has had, then, is not so much in the realm of policy. Nor do I think it’s precisely in the realm of P.R., at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Ultimately, I think Obama’s real problem has been a familiar one, namely that, inadvertently or not, he overpromised and necessarily underdelivered. This is a problem, in some sense, that all presidents run into, since voters tend to attribute to the President far more power over the economy than he actually has. But the problem was exacerbated in Obama’s case by the rhetoric of his campaign—“yes, we can” sounds great, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to recover from the bursting of an eight-trillion-dollar housing bubble —and the hopes that people placed in him. I never understood the somewhat messianic qualities that certain voters ascribed to him: Obama has been exactly the kind of President I expected him to be (and the kind of President I hoped he would be), namely rational, pragmatic, thoughtful, and even-tempered. But clearly many voters—even, oddly enough, some of those who didn’t vote for him—expected a miracle worker. When they got a problem-solver instead, one with little authority over Congressional Democrats and no authority at all over obstructionist Republicans, they were disappointed. Still, I don’t know that there was a way to avoid this—campaigning is, to some extent, always a matter of getting people to believe you’ll make more of a difference than you actually can.

You actually saw the most absurd version of this from John McCain’s 2008 campaign. It was clear throughout the campaign that Democrats would have majorities in congress. But McCain didn’t give stump speeches like “my disagreements with congress will prevent action on major domestic issues, so my friends I’ll be focusing on foreign policy!” And when he did deign to delve into the messy question of how, in practice, he would attempt to govern what he came up with was nonsense. Veto any appropriations bill that contains an earmark? Really?

There’s a lot of feisty disagreement over exactly how much influence Obama has over “centrist” members of the US Senate. But however you look at it, it’s clear that managing the relationship with congress is one of the key things a president does. But candidates don’t really talk about this subject. They act like they’re running to be Prime Minister in the UK talking about their plan for this and their plan for that and how they’re going to change the way they do business in Washington.

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