Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Steve and Cokie Roberts: The Dangers of Overpromising

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Steve and Cokie Roberts: The Dangers of Overpromising

Article excerpt

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- "I want you to understand: I will not promise you something that I cannot deliver," Hillary Clinton told a rally here in South Carolina. "I will not make promises I know I cannot keep. We don't need any more of that."

No, we don't. The disillusionment with politics and government now plaguing the election process has been badly aggravated by politicians in both parties making promises they knew they couldn't keep. And this epidemic of cynical simplification is getting worse.

Whether it's Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, vowing to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, or Bernie Sanders rhapsodizing about a "political revolution" that will somehow change the nature of Washington, the campaign trail is flooded with fantasies that will never, ever happen.

And yet the electorate seems hungry for those unrealistic and unachievable answers. More pies keep getting tossed into more skies - - and more voters keep gobbling them up.

These voters are displaying a profound misunderstanding of two key elements of American democracy. The first is that elections matter and, therefore, so does electability. You cannot enact your program if you cannot win. And yet only 12 percent of the voters in both New Hampshire primaries cited electability as an important factor in making their choice.

The second element kicks in once elections are over. Our political system was deliberately and brilliantly designed to distribute power, to slow down the process, to require negotiation and consensus.

Easy and extreme slogans -- like "Expel the foreigners!" or "Soak the billionaires!" -- make great bumper stickers and applause lines. But they aren't useful guides for governing the country.

Governing is messy and complicated. It requires accommodation, not anger; determination, not delusion. But the overpromisers undermine that system and make compromise -- the essence of democracy -- much more difficult.

Take immigration. The idea propounded by many Republicans, that undocumented immigrants can somehow be seized and sent home, is totally impractical and morally reprehensible. …

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