Been there, done that …
Bill Clinton – President Pinocchio?
The Way To The White House Is Paved With Campaign Promises. The Average President Breaks 40% Of Them.
Clinton Aides Now Say Promises Were Just “Goals”
January 17, 1993
By Craig Crawford
Chicago Tribune/Orlando Sentinel
WASHINGTON — Will President Clinton change your life?
Not anytime soon, according to President-elect Clinton.
”I have to put everything back on the table,” he said last week in Little Rock, Ark.
Clinton had been asked only how his promise to cut middle-class taxes would be affected by the rising federal debt. But his answer suggested that everything he had proposed during the fall presidential campaign is now in doubt.
As this week’s inaugural bash revives Clinton’s legendary campaign skills – starting with today’s bus trip from Monticello to Washington – a harsh reality will lurk behind the fun.
Federal red ink and unsympathetic congressional leaders threaten Clinton’s promise of prosperity for middle-income Americans.
Whether it’s giving middle-income families a tax break or offering free college tuition to everyone, several of Clinton’s promises are disappearing even before he takes the oath of office on Wednesday.
Clinton or his aides have also backed off plans to:
– Stimulate the economy with massive public-works projects;
– Cut the White House staff by 25 percent;
– Cut federal borrowing in half during the next four years.
Those once-heralded proposals are now referred to as ”goals” within the Clinton camp.
Yet such promises had helped convince many Americans that they would feel the difference in a Clinton presidency. Election Day exit polls found that most voters who chose Clinton said they had done so because ”he will bring about needed change.”
Clinton’s inaugural festivities are aimed at piling more assets onto the fortune in good will he won as a campaigner.
But how will Clinton convert this political capital into changes that Americans might feel? Very slowly, if the past two months are a guide.
Clinton’s presidential transition was notable mostly for unsurprising Cabinet choices and frenzied news-media coverage.
While jogging almost daily for news cameras, Clinton has moved at a glacier’s pace on tough policy choices.
Missing now are the once-feverish predictions of inaugural-eve legislative packages to revive the economy.
Clinton’s Cabinet nominees have revealed no policy decisions of any sort during their Senate confirmation hearings. Instead, they referred to most policy suggestions as a ”viable option.”
Repeatedly asked for specifics on Clinton’s economic plans, Treasury Secretary-designate Lloyd Bentsen kept saying, ”That decision has not been made.”
Filling the roster of political appointments has also bogged down. Clinton has filled fewer than 200 of the 3,000 federal jobs available to him.
The president-elect’s sympathizers insist that, once in office, he will take to his new powers with vigor and speed.
”Clinton reminds me of Franklin Roosevelt, who almost immediately began making things happen,” said Duke University historian James David Barber. ”Like Roosevelt, he can be expected to take an experimental approach to government, always out there for people in big trouble.”
Failing to fulfill such promise should not surprise voters.
Presidents on average keep about 60 percent of the promises they make, according to Jeff Fishel, author of Presidents and Promises.
Sometimes a promise is best broken. Abraham Lincoln vowed not to abolish slavery but wound up freeing black Americans.
Other failed promises were mostly forgiven. Franklin Roosevelt said he would balance the budget but instead attacked the Great Depression with massive government spending.
A few shattered promises provoked fury. George Bush said he would never raise taxes, but he did so and took a beating.
Clinton might be forgiven a little backtracking, but he will likely be held to his promise of a better life for average Americans feeling the economic pinch.
”I am a product of the middle class,” Clinton said in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention. ”And when I am president, you will be forgotten no more.”
Wednesday’s inaugural address could indicate how Clinton will popularize his prescriptions for change, as in John Kennedy’s inaugural call to ”ask what you can do for your country.”
But it will take more than bus trips and soaring rhetoric to fulfill Clinton’s promise, according to Republican analyst Kevin Phillips.
”Disenchantment will persist until the middle class feels it is back on the road to prosperity under policies it considers fair,” Phillips recently wrote.
American University professor Alan Lichtman agrees that if the new president does not deliver on his promise for change, he could join the growing ranks of ousted presidents.
”He is going to have to make changes that people notice,” said Lichtman, who wrote about the importance of policy change in his book The Thirteen Keys to the Presidency.
Lichtman discovered that the past five presidents who lost re-election each failed to change national policy in some dramatic way.
For instance, voters felt the effect of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts. Most applauded his assault on welfare spending. Such policy changes helped him handily win re-election in 1984.
”The American people are a fundamentally pragmatic electorate,” Lichtman said. ”They measure success in results.”