Meaning of Campaign Promises

by Maureen Dowd
published in the New York Times
under the title "Captive to History's Caprice"

Covering seven presidential campaigns has made me realize that when it comes to predicting how presidents will perform, "nobody knows anything," as William Goldman said about Hollywood.

You'd think it would be safe to vote on issues, but politicians often don't feel the need to honor their campaign promises.

I covered Bush Senior saying, "Read my lips: No new taxes." I also covered him raising taxes.

I covered W. promising a humble foreign policy and no nation-building. I also covered the Iraq fiasco.

False Impressions

We voters try to figure out who we can trust to have life-and-death power over us, but there's so much theatricality and artifice in campaigns that we can easily get a false impression of who someone is.

And you never know who they will become once they move into the insular, heady womb of the White House or how they will be buffeted by the caprice of history, and the randomness of crises.

Gremlins Surface

At the very moment when politicians should be on top of the world, embraced by the voters, enhanced by the toys and levers of power, their gremlins begin to surface. They inevitably get hit with trouble that they never could have imagined or prepared for, and that can trigger self-doubt, self-destruction and self-pity.

Why didn't John F. Kennedy simply toss out the C.I.A. plan developed under Eisenhower to send 1,200 exiles to the Bay of Pigs to overthrow a popular Cuban leader who had a force of 200,000? Did he feel the need to prove himself?

Why did Lyndon B. Johnson ignore his own solid political instincts when listening to Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk advise him on Vietnam as the war was falling under their stupid sway? Was it just because they had been J.F.K.'s advisers?

Nixon, driven by the same pathology of envy about Kennedy and other golden boys, conspired in a political crime while coasting to re-election.

Why did W. let Cheney and Rummsfeld lead him into the hubristic disaster of Iraq? Did he, too, need to prove himself by outdoing Daddy? And how could the "compassionate conservative" just skate through Hurricane Katrina like he did?

The self-destructive impulses that consumed Bill Clinton detracted from his policy achievements and distracted him from achieving all he otherwise could have.

After giving up drinking and becoming governor of Texas, W. had supposedly changed from an arrogant, obdurate, Daddy-competing loser to a genial, bipartisan, mature winner. As it turned out, a total makeover must not be possible after the age of 40.

Real Feelings and Darker Tendencies

All of us have known "big shots" who keep a check on their real feelings and darker tendencies until they get the top job. Then they throw off the restraints and revert to their worst instincts, bullying others and insulating themselves with sycophants.

Maybe on Day 1 Hillary Clinton or any other candidate could manage to be as they have appeared. But it's Day 2 that I would really worry about.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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