President Obama’s recent flip-flop on “super-PAC” funding was so dramatic that even his supporters are commenting on it. MSNBC’s analysis is that “last night’s announcement looks hypocritical no matter how you try and rationalize it.”
Hypocritical as it might be, the President’s duplicity on the issue of super-pac funding shouldn’t surprise anyone who studies the history of this country, or any democracy, for that matter. Politicians make promises for political reasons, and when the time comes to keep or break the promise, that decision is made politically too.
Very often a politician will see some political advantage in making a promise that he couldn’t keep even if he wanted to. The whole subject of how politicians raise and spend money would not even be an issue today if John McCain’s 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law had really been able to “get the money out of politics,” as McCain promised it would. McCain is a smart man; surely he knows that nothing will ever get the money out of politics as long as the government plays such a huge role in peoples lives. His real agenda was to make it illegal to criticize incumbents like himself when they are running for re-election.
In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt promised to roll back the government spending increases that Herbert Hoover and the Congress had enacted in response to the Great Depression. Then he got in office and tripled governemnt spending, during peace time, in his first two terms.
In ’35, Roosevelt promoted his Social Security plan with a pamphlet that promised to cap the Social Security tax at three percent. “That,” said this government document, “is the most you will ever have to pay.” Of course the tax is more than twice that now.
Lyndon Johnson promised that his vastly expensive social welfare programs would end welfare dependency forever, once they’d had a few years to work there magic. “The days of the dole,” said President Johnson, “are numbered.” Needless to say, millions of Americans are still depending on the government to dole out their welfare checks, nearly half a century later.
In the early ninteenth century the government promised the Indians Oklahoma. In 1889 Congress found it politically expedient to kick the Indians out and let white folks take over. American Indians are not alone in learning that the promises written on peace treaties are worthless.
Why do people still believe promises from politicians?