Candidates Should Quit Making Campaign Promises

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr calls for a moratorium on campaign policy promises from the presidential candidates. He says history — and recent statements by campaign advisers for Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — suggest that the positions candidates take during an election actually say little about what they'll do in office.


In the race for the White House, there have been accusations of inconsistency. Each Democratic campaign has said the other is less than committed to their official positions. Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr says, the problem may not be that the candidates are changing their stance on the issues, perhaps, he says, the problem is making campaign promises in the first place.

DANIEL SCHORR: Now and then, a campaign advisor lets the cat out of the bag. Unless it'd be known that the candidate's position for the voters is just that - a campaign promise.

General Jack Keane who has advised Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on campaign strategy told The New York Sun that she would not act irresponsibly and order the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Samantha Power, (unintelligible) foreign policy aide to Senator Barack Obama, told the BBC that his plan to pull troops from Iraq in 16 months was a best case scenario. And that once in office, he would not rely on a plan drafted as a campaign document. And Obama's senior economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee gave assurances to Canadian consular officials that they interpret it to mean, the candidates promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement was campaign record.

(Unintelligible) you might call it. The conventional practice of having staff can try positions that will appeal to voters tells little about what a new president would do once in office are washed with urgent memos and situation room briefings. The wonderful disappearing campaign promise is not new in American politics. Franklin Roosevelt pledged in 1940 that American boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson promised no wider war in Vietnam. In 1968, Richard Nixon promised peace with honor in Vietnam. And then of course, there was George H.W. Bush and his well-remembered pledge in 1988, read my lips, no new taxes.

Berkeley Professor Nelson Polsby has said, think how much worse it would be if we had irresponsible government on top of irresponsible campaigning. And David Wise in his book, "The Politics of Lying," describes the campaign as a mutual con game. He wish candidates tell voters what they want to hear. And so maybe, in the interest of preserving our dignity, if not our sanity, it's time to demand our presidential candidates a moratorium on specific campaign promises.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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