Obama Keeps Campaign Promises That Expand Government; Abandons Those That Limit It or Hold It Accountable

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

McClatchy summarizes the long list of policies where President Obama has reneged on campaign promises—either in letter or spirit—and adopted the policies of his predecessor. We’ve covered many of them here, but they range from a broad application of the state secrets doctrine to invocations of executive privilege to the Defense of Marriage Act to a host of other issues related to transparency and disclosure.

My own hunch is that presidents try to keep campaign promises that expand the government and their own power, and either back down from or are unwilling to expend much capital on promises that make government smaller and more accountable, thus limiting their own power.

Looking over PolitiFact’s report card on Obama’s campaign promises, that seems to be about right thus far. By my count (and some of this is certainly subjective) of the of the 31 promises the site says Obama has kept thus far, 20 in some way grow or expand the federal government. Just six make the government smaller, more transparent, or more accountable. The remaining five have no effect, or amount to a wash.

Of the six campaign promises PolitiFact says Obama has unquestionably broken, five would have limited his own power, provided tax breaks, or provided more accountability and transparency to the federal government. One was mostly symbolic (recognizing the Armenian genocide). So far, he hasn’t broken a single promise that would grow or expand the government, though he has compromised on a few, and many have been stalled.

PolitiFact also gives Obama more credit than he deserves on some promises. For example, Obama’s promise that “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes,” was broken when he signed a bill raising taxes on cigarettes to pay for an expansion of the SCHIP program. PolitiFact calls this a “compromise.” But “not any of your taxes” seems pretty clear. Obama didn’t say, “not any of your taxes, so long as you don’t smoke” or “so long as you don’t have habits the government finds distasteful.”

In short, I think it’s safe to say that Obama has been willing to spend plenty of political capital on his promises that vastly expand the size and scope of the federal government, and relatively little on promises related to eliminating waste, putting limits on his own power, or making the government more transparent and accountable.

It’s worth emphasizing that this analysis isn’t holding Obama to some libertarian standard of the ideal president—I’m not looking at how many of his total policies grow government versus how many limit it or hold it accountable. It’s holding him up against his own campaign promises. That is, even when you assume the positions of left-of-center, big government Obama-the-candidate as your baseline, Obama-the-president comes up short.

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29 Responses to “Obama Keeps Campaign Promises That Expand Government; Abandons Those That Limit It or Hold It Accountable”

  1. #1 |  chance | 

    “That is, even when you assume the positions of left-of-center, big government Obama-the-candidate as your baseline, Obama-the-president comes up short.”

    Yeah, most do.

  2. #2 |  JS | 

    Change huh? The only thing that changed is the name of the party in charge.

  3. #3 |  Phelps | 

    Better watch out, Radley. Every time I post a comment here that makes one of these points, it gets rated about -15.

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    And people say you don’t criticize the Big O enough…

  5. #5 |  Zargon | 

    Gosh, what a surprise. People act in their own best interest.

    I guess the only solution is to put a different person in charge.

  6. #6 |  Bronwyn | 

    What I want to know is, when will all this hit home for the Obama voters? When will they wake up and smell the pile of horseshit they’ve been huffing like it was lavender?

  7. #7 |  Danny | 

    The funny thing to me is that it doesn’t even look like he tried to fulfill his campaign promises. As soon as he became president they appeared to be an afterthought.

    Oh, and I hate it when people call them campaign “pledges”. If they aren’t required by their voters to TRY to accomplish those promises then they should be shunned by their constituency.

    If I ran for president, I wouldn’t claim to do everything for everybody. I’d say that I’d try to do my best to work for on specific issues, and give the reasons why to show that I have true intention to. Of course, I’d be shunned as being to wishy-washy, even if I was being honest. We apparently need strong government more than we need correct government.

  8. #8 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Dog bites man.

  9. #9 |  Chris Grieb | 

    Isn’t there a line from a book. “Brother, you asked for it.”

  10. #10 |  Danny | 

    #8 | Cynical in CA | June 22nd, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Dog bites man.

    Well sure, to us it is. Hopefully somebody else is reading this and can piece together the puzzle that maybe most of our politicians aren’t looking out for our best interest. Otherwise we’re no better than the freepers, who dailykosers, who talk about their beliefs in a vacuum and shun anybody who offers a differing opinion.

  11. #11 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Things will be different when we get a Republican in there.

    But seriously, does anyone have any faith left that the US government can change the way it does business? I’m thinking 10 engine locomotive going 80 mph and all the libertarian/anarcho-capitalist protests are like bugs on the windsheild.

    Until that train crashes, it don’t stop.

  12. #12 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    @#6 Bronwyn

    Answer: Never.

    What has happened in the last 30 years to give you hope that American voters would ever critically examine any elected official?

  13. #13 |  Currence | 

    Gosh, what a surprise. People act in their own best interest.

    What about people who reject power, wealth, etc. in favor of working for justice, what they think is right, etc.?

    It’s funny, did you ever notice that it’s always the people who have no concept of their own interests other than “money, power, pleasure” who ascribe that same limited conception to everyone?

    To quote Immortal Technique re: mainstream, candy-ass, pop “rappers”:
    “What, you think cuz you fake, everyone else is a gimmick?”

    Newsflash: not everyone is as terrible, venal, and corrupt as the worst of us are.

  14. #14 |  Rob Robertson | 

    I very often let drivers into traffic when I’m on the road not just because I’m a nice guy, but because a simple cost/benefit analysis tells me it’s in my best interest to avoid gridlock by smoothing the aggregate flow. The problem with our political structure is that it has already been shown to be *fundamentally* flawed; the moral dimension of the question has been outlined and the very concept of “voting” on the disposition of other people’s lives exposed as a barbaric, immoral relic of an unenlightened past.

    It’s the very structure of the thing that attracts those who are motivated by their basest ‘self-interests’. Stop being surprised by the connivance of these charlatans.

    Get disillusioned early and beat the rush.

  15. #15 |  Lee | 

    How is this news?

    I’m not sure anyone really finds this surprising. I guess the idiots on the left might, but then again they are idiots for a reason.

    To be fair, the idiots on the right probably think we found WMDs in Iraq and Hussein was behind 9-11.

  16. #16 |  James D | 

    Um, thanks?

  17. #17 |  JS | 

    #7 Danny “The funny thing to me is that it doesn’t even look like he tried to fulfill his campaign promises. As soon as he became president they appeared to be an afterthought.”

    Absolutely! Its scary. Its like the office of the president has become something like the queen of England, just a figurehead controlled by a professional bureaucrat class. He flipped as soon as he got in the office and the almighty CIA briefed him on what they want him to do.

  18. #18 |  DaveG | 

    Keeping the war machine going, check. Banker bailouts and increased power of the federal reserve, check.
    Obama is doing just what he was put in place to do. The elections are a dog and pony show they trot out every four years. Don’t expect anything new from the latest dark suited puppet.
    Pray for some help on prohibition, we’ll need it

    Prohibition was introduced as a fraud; it has been nursed as a fraud. It is wrapped in the livery of Heaven, but it comes to serve the devil. It comes to regulate by law our appetites and our daily lives. It comes to tear down liberty and build up fanaticism, hypocrisy, and intolerance. It comes to confiscate by legislative decree the property of many of our fellow citizens. It comes to send spies, detectives, and informers into our homes; to have us arrested and carried before courts and condemned to fines and imprisonments. It comes to dissipate the sunlight of happiness, peace, and prosperity in which we are now living and to fill our land with alienations, estrangements, and bitterness. It comes to bring us evil– only evil– and that continually. Let us rise in our might as one and overwhelm it with such indignation that we shall never hear of it again as long as grass grows and water runs.”

    Roger Q. Mills, 1887

  19. #19 |  Ira | 

    Don’t disagree with your points but all in all I’m happy the way things are headed.

    I voted for Obama and will probably do so again.

    What do you think would have happened if McCain were in charge?

    In my mind, all of the bad and none of the good and more bad not even mentioned above.

    -30?

  20. #20 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Ira,
    Happy? Really? In the con game that is American politics, you are happy with failure because the POS the other party offered was worse. Any chance you might see this as part of the problem?

    When I’m king, I want all my subjects to be as easy as you (no offense).

  21. #21 |  Ira | 

    Boyd,

    Happy, really. Not sure what you mean by failure though, can you expand on that for me please?

    What do you view as an alternative? Refreshing the tree of liberty with some blood? Be rational and vote for whom you believe will do the best job.

    I’ll just assume the last line is snark masquerading as bad humor.

  22. #22 |  Buck | 

    I am with you Ira.

    At least he can read a damn teleprompter and that is exponentially better than what came before him.

    I will definitely vote for Obama again. I owe that to the Republicans.

  23. #23 |  Zargon | 

    #13
    What about people who reject power, wealth, etc. in favor of working for justice, what they think is right, etc.?

    It’s funny, did you ever notice that it’s always the people who have no concept of their own interests other than “money, power, pleasure” who ascribe that same limited conception to everyone?…

    Newsflash: not everyone is as terrible, venal, and corrupt as the worst of us are.

    Well first, please don’t talk as though “people act in their own best interest” means every person on the planet, every minute of every day. It’s almost all people, almost all the time.

    Second, you seem to think it’s some terrible sin to act in your own best interest. I judge it to be in my best interest to go to work, to buy groceries, to be polite (most of the time), and to tell people about the evil of government. There are a few things I do that are probably mostly altruism. Letting people into traffic is probably one, because if it slows down traffic later, I’m already past there. Then again, I’d prefer a town where people let each other into traffic often rather than never, so perhaps I’m doing my part to make my town that town.

    But that’s not important. The problems occur at the intersection of people acting in their own interest and people or groups of people with virtually limitless power over other human beings. I know which side of the equation I find issue with.

  24. #24 |  phlinn | 

    #13, currance “What about people who reject power, wealth, etc. in favor of working for justice, what they think is right, etc.?” If you look closer, almost everyone who claims to be working for justice is still seeking power over other people. They have just come up with a justification for it so they can feel better about themselves.

    The basic flaw is that you can’t work for what you think is right without power. Without power, all you can do is be fair yourself. But that is never enough for some people, they have to try and make others follow their own concept of fairness.

  25. #25 |  Ken | 

    @Currence:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” (Clive Staples Lewis)

  26. #26 |  fwb | 

    Have U read your constitution today? Do you know the 25 powers of Congress, the 10 powers of the President, and the limited areas of jurisdiction of the Courts? Do you know which of the three branches is the most powerful?

    Tiocfaidh ar la!

  27. #27 |  supercat | 

    In other news, the sun rose this morning and passed overhead around noontime.

  28. #28 |  markm | 

    As for the SCHIP tax, Obama sure was wordy, compared to GHW Bush:

    “Read my lips: no new taxes”

    And I knew Republican stalwarts that would go into long involved explanations of why all the tax increases and new taxes Bush 41 signed weren’t breaking that promise…

    How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

  29. #29 |  old | 

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

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