Presidential Promises

Candidates for the presidency of the United States choose marketing strategies that they think will give them the win and, as with all good marketing, the message is packaged differently for different groups of people. The package includes an assortment of promises that the candidates offer up for consideration, but they usually fall into a two general categories: Unicorn promises that describe some outcome that people would find desirable but exists only in some other fairy-tale universe and those for which a president has no legitimate authority to enact.

The fairy-tale wishes, while they usually describe desirable results, are just as dangerous as the bravado. The Utopian outcome becomes the justification for some very un-Utopian methods. Both rely on authoritarianism, and both bring ultimate violation of individual rights and repression of the people.

The constitutional role of the president is actually quite limited. He or she is to faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress, to act as commander-in-chief of only the armed forces of the United States, and, with the advice and consent of Congress, to make treaties and to appoint ambassadors, consuls, Supreme Court justices and other federal officials. The president is not authorized to actually make laws, but rather only to ensure the proper execution of the laws of the land.

There is a very good reason for this. The writers designed the separation of powers under the constitution to limit the ability of any individual or any branch of the federal government to become a threat. It is a recognition that power corrupts and that centralized power is a danger to the rights of the people. The idea makes sense and has had a positive effect on the freedom of the people and the prosperity of the nation for more than two centuries. The Constitution, however, is only as good as the people. It is not fit for a corrupt citizenry who don’t care about the rights of others.

That people clamor for presidents who promise them Utopia or free goodies or who promise to act in ways for which they have no authority is an indication that the country is becoming less fit for constitutional rule that is based on limited government and the maximization of freedom for all individuals. Freedom cannot coexist with unbridled politics. They are antagonistic.

All branches of the government are intent on expanding their reach and scope into all facets of the lives of the people. Congress makes laws that it has no constitutional authority to make, and both the executive and judicial branches fail to hold it in check. The executive branch is increasingly making law under executive orders and other mechanisms and expanding the power of agencies to make rules that abuse the rights of individuals, while the other branches stand by and watch. The Supreme Court abuses the obvious wording and meaning of the constitution to give its nod to expanded, unconstitutional power. In other words, the Constitution is failing.

It is failing because the people are proving themselves unworthy of the blessings of limited government. A free society depends on people of integrity, of honesty, of self-reliance and of courage. When everyone uses politics for their own benefit, they give politicians permission to abuse rights.

The people of United States are facing an ever-growing threat, but it is a threat of their own making. The good news is that countries like New Zealand show that it is possible to turn around, to reject the ills of big government, and move back toward freedom and individual responsibility. That won’t happen until the people reclaim their rights and reject the promises from the absurd theater that presidential politics has become.

Dan McLaughlin is the author of Compassion and Truth-Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results. Follow him at