The Edmond Sun

September 28, 2012

Examining presidential promises

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — The presidential debates are coming up. So let’s take a minute or two and talk about it. If you believe the polls, most American voters have their minds made up already. All their chosen candidate has to do is show up and survive and their vote is locked.

Some early decisions are based on the most superficial of considerations. It’s easy to “preach to the choir.” Presumably, they’re all true believers and don’t require much persuasion. There are constituents that are “single issue” voters. Whoever makes the most convincing promises regarding that make-or-break special interest will get the vote — period. To win these voters, the candidate must recite the mantra — whether he believes it or not — and add them to the tally.

Then there are voters who ask the candidate “what’s in it for me?” To win these voters, the candidate who promises the most attractive basket of “goodies” is their man. Realistic prospects for delivering these “goodies” are, unimportant. Their vote is assured.

Unfortunately, there are blocks of voters who will vote for the candidate with the “right” skin color. A side-by-side photo is all they need to pick their candidate. And, of course, there are party stalwarts who cast their vote along party lines, no matter what. These are “rah rah go team” voters who uncritically swallow the party line and blindly ignore controverting evidence. For these voters, no need to do any “tire kicking” at all. Their minds are made up.

There are, on the other hand, some voters who are withholding judgment until they can observe the candidates side-by-side and assess the credibility of their real-time responses to the same questions. To these cautious voters — to all voters really — there are some important factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, talk is cheap.

It’s easy to make expansive promises and boast of great things to come. It’s easy to recite the magic mantra that’s music to the ears of myopic monovision voters. It’s easy to tell a good story. Anyone who’s been taken in by a con man knows that believability is their bread and butter. They are experts at projecting trustworthiness. They will never succeed in getting their hands in our pockets unless they convince us they are capable and well-meaning. And, I can tell you from experience, the very best con men prosper from return business. They always deliver just enough on the con to keep our eyesight slightly shaded.

With this in mind, let’s not be unduly impressed with high profile promises. Both these candidates have long histories of making promises. President Obama made promises in order to be elected in 2008. He’s making promises now. Mr. Romney made promises to voters of Massachusetts in order to be elected governor and he, too, is making promises now. As we assess the promises we’re hearing, realizing they’re both real good promisers, let’s measure how they delivered on promises in the past. If we detect a pattern of unfulfilled promises, we have every right to be skeptical of the promises we’re hearing now.

But apart from promises, these candidates will be making statements of fact about themselves, their accomplishments and their opponents. They will all be believable. We must ask ourselves, “Has this person made a practice of hiding the real truth? Has this person made a practice of distorting the facts? Has this person, by his silence, attempted to exploit the advantages of damaging lies? Has this person told us lies himself?” If the answer to these questions is “yes,” our experience tells us we’re being set up for another con-job this time.

There’s another point to keep in mind. An artful dodger can find a plausible excuse for any failure. It’s always going to be someone else’s fault or circumstances beyond our control. Anyone applying for a hard job is expected to be capable of assessing the difficulties to be encountered. If they get half-way through the task and realize it can’t be done in the allotted time, why not? Did they not do their homework before they gave us their “bid” for the job? Were there unforeseen factors that were invisible? Some commitments are foolishly made and, sometimes, there are legitimate excuses why something can’t be carried out on time. Whenever someone makes a commitment and fails to follow through, they’d better have an excuse and it better be good.

I am 85 percent convinced who I’m voting for in November. I can back up my decision with facts. That’s our job as voters. Hopefully, all these reasons will be crystallized and highlighted for undecided voters during the debates. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.