I Promise…Sort Of

I occasionally make fun of politicians, mainly due to the numerous opportunities to do so. However, sometimes they make writing a post incredibly easy. This time, John Edwards takes a swing at Congress, appointees, and even himself (potentially), that never had any hope of connecting, but I guess you can give him points for being bold.

First, I’m a big fan of accuracy, or at least attempting to be accurate. Second, I’ll never understand why people make claims that can be quickly disproved. My favorite line from the whole thing?

…I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you. There’s no excuse for politicians in Washington having health care when you don’t have health care.

Edwards is taking a stand on an issue that’s important to many people in this election cycle. So why did he, as my brother likes to describe it, throw it into oomph gear rhetorically, making a statement that’s so easy to ignore? His basic argument is sound. Why should politicians and their families have insurance provided by the government and not all Americans? It’s a valid question, but the question’s value is lost by Edwards burying it beneath a promised action he can’t take.

Politicians already enjoy notoriety for not keeping promises, but at most, all Edwards can do is introduce legislation; he can’t guarantee its passage. From his campaign, I found the following explanation:

On the first day of Edwards’ administration, he will submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress, and all senior political appointees in the legislative and executive branches of government on July 20th, 2009—unless Congress has enacted universal health care reform.

Edwards will require Congress to pass universal health insurance that meets four principles: (1) It must be truly universal; (2) Anyone who has health care must be able to keep it and pay less for it; (3) Anyone who doesn’t have health care must get it, with help if they can’t afford it; (4) Doctors and patients, not insurance companies and HMOs, must have control of health care decisions. (link)

Edwards’ ad probably wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows if he’d said, “I’m going to introduce legislation that ends…” instead of “I’m going to use my power as president to take away…” The former definitely isn’t as sexy as the latter. Personally, I think we’re at least partially to blame for politicians’ obsession with catchy sound bites.

We’re so distanced from modern day politics, whether from disgust or disinterest, that candidates throw all sorts of nonsense our way. The hope? That some phrase sticks in your mind come election day and you check the box next to said candidate’s name. When was the last time you engaged, saw, or heard a dialogue between an elected official and anyone else? I suspect what you heard was a bunch of canned, political-ease that added up to very little.

In general, unless the status quo of politics affects you in a direct way, when do you pay attention to what’s happening in D.C or your state capital? The coming weeks will offer many opportunities to hear what your elected officials have to say about the country you call home. Please, please take advantage of the next few months to exercise your voice and challenge the candidates who talk about how they’ll use their power. Unless they’re superheros, whatever power they have is granted by you with your vote.



4 Responses to “I Promise…Sort Of”

  1. 1 Joe T.
    November 14, 2007 at 8:00 am

    Very good point, Britt. You got right to the heart of the disingenuous passing for substantive policy that infests much of America`s politics on both sides of the aisle. Personally, I like Edwards and I think he often engages in this kind of rhetorical device in order to be heard over the various noise machines and echo chambers that dominate the media landscape, both mainstream and in the new media world.

    Let it not be overlooked, though, that the current administration excels at, and can probably be credited with inventing, many of the most brazen misinformation tactics, such as the false assertions, straw men and red herrings that can`t be disproved, or can only disproved after the damage has been done.

    Good analysis, though…

  2. 2 Britt
    November 14, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Joe: I appreciate your comments.

    You’re probably accurate that Edwards’ language is driven as much by trying to overcome noise on the campaign trail as anything else. As to the current administration, you could write several books on their language choices. However, I doubt we can give them credit for being the very first to use such tactics. For example, think about FDR’s administration and how they took every step to shield his growing physical infirmities.

    The other issue that your comment highlights is the inability to undo the damage from inaccurate information. Once something is released, your options for countering perceptions are minimal, particularly if people want to believe what they’ve been told.

  3. November 15, 2007 at 4:35 am

    Britt – you’re right about FDR… good point. However I would argue that their misleading the public on that issue wasn’t tantamount to leading us into a war under false pretenses. ALTHOUGH, some historical ‘revisionists’ would argue that FDR knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened… then, there are some who say the same thing about Bush and 9/11… so I guess the cycle continues endlessly.

  4. 4 Britt
    November 15, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Joe: Unfortunately, leaders have guided their citizens to war under false pretenses several times. The Boston Globe wrote up a piece (http://tinyurl.com/jqthr) about 18 months ago on some of the different leaders who manipulated events for their own ends. I think you give the current administration too much credit for coming up with the idea. They just happened to be good students of a particular kind of history.

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