As a conservative, I’m fine with the fact that President Biden’s upcoming proposed budget will not include a public option for health care, a proposal to cut prescription-drug costs, raising the estate tax, or the forgiveness of a significant amount of student debt. (A president’s proposed budget and what actually gets spent in any given year are rarely more than distant cousins, anyway.)
But as a person who thinks that the entire American debate around what the government ought to do is thoroughly dysfunctional in large part because candidates aren’t willing to level with voters about what is realistic and possible . . . I’m not all that cheered to see Biden abandoning of another bunch of promises. It’s just further evidence that the stances that presidential candidates take while running have only the loosest and vaguest connection to the decisions they’ll make in office.
This comes after Biden dropped his opposition to Nord Stream 2 and broke his promise to not hold children in detention centers, his promise to send out $2,000 stimulus checks, his promise to establish a national commission on policing, or to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, or to punish the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, or his promise to end the use of standardized testing in schools . . .
It’s tough out there for a presidential candidate who isn’t willing to be Santa Claus, or who’s willing to utter the dreaded words, “We can’t afford it,” “We’re not even close to a consensus behind that idea,” “That’s not the government’s job” or, “Based on our long experience, if the federal government tried to do that, it would louse it all up.” Because there’s always some other candidate out there willing to say, “Yes, we can,” “I alone can fix it,” or to “make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” On the campaign trail, everything looks easy.
The playbook for presidential candidates is clear: promise whatever it takes to anyone in order to win the nomination and the general election, and then after you’ve won, figure out which promises you actually intended to keep.