Promises mean less when it’s all politics

What’s the difference between what a presidential candidate promises a year before the election and what he or she would actually do if elected?

That’s a question more voters might want to ask. Much of what a candidate says today to attract attention and earn the favor of voters in a crowded field — at least on the Republican side — could be far from their reach once they walk into the White House. Sometimes it is because the promises are wildly ambitious. Sometimes the promises won’t hold up because of unforeseen changes in the country or halfway across the globe.

The president of the United States is still the most powerful person in the world, but the president has to contend with seemingly countless obstacles — changes in public opinion, congressional opposition to White House proposals, foreign threats and even natural disasters that drain federal resources.

Think about the last two presidential elections and the historic turns the country experienced shortly after the new president took office. George W. Bush could not have predicted (no one could) that the United States would be attacked by terrorists who took over commercial jets on Sept. 11, 2001.

Barack Obama entered the presidency just as the country’s financial crisis (which resulted in bank failures, a slide on Wall Street and automaker bailouts) was becoming clear at the start of the Great Recession.

When a presidential candidate promises a specific program — such as Democrat Hillary Clinton’s $350 billion plan to reduce college expenses for many Americans or Republican Jeb Bush’s pledge to slice the federal workforce by 10 percent — voters who support those proposals ought to be asking what skills that candidate possesses to pull off such an ambitious plan. For every promise made by a presidential candidate, there are several roadblocks that stand in the way of achieving that promise.

In addition to weighing specific proposals from presidential hopefuls, voters ought to ask how the candidates deal with challenges, conflict, hardship and doubt. There are several governors in the run, and each one has a record of dealing with a state legislature. There are business executives in the race. They have a record of dealing with stakeholders.

It would be good to see candidates pressured more often to explain how they will do what they promise.

We’re tired of platitudes and pledges to put the country on the right path. And we’re tired of promises that are not backed by an explanation of how to achieve the pledge.

In our country’s history, presidents have rarely gotten what they wanted without making compromises and dealing with countless unexpected detours along the way. We need a president who can handle that tough road.

Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville

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