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Candidates make many promises before and during their time in office, and presidential candidates are certainly no exception. President Biden for example, who has been in office for over a month now has seemingly gone back on one promise in particular. During his campaign, President Biden made the promise that “zero” deportations would occur in his first one hundred days in office. And yet since taking office an alleged 26,000 deportation have occurred. While that number has not been explicitly confirmed, at the very least more than zero people have been deported back to their country since Biden took office, a seemingly open and shut case of failure to achieve a promise, or potentially even a vagrant lie as some have alleged.
The reason Biden couldn’t keep his promise is the reason why many politicians probably shouldn’t make them in the first place. Initially, Biden kept his promise by putting out an executive moratorium that enforced a hold on deportations for one hundred days. However, between laws already in place from the prior Trump administration, the COVID-19 pandemic regulations that prohibit some foreigners from entering the country for health reasons and courts denying his executive orders, an unknown number of deportations have occurred under the President’s watch. Biden has not purposefully deported people under his administration, but he has failed to stop them.
So, why do politicians keep making promises they know they can’t keep? Well, because we ask them to. You can thank gridlock in our Congress for our representatives’ fear of compromise. An inherent problem with campaigning, especially for larger scale campaigns, is the fact that to get elected you have to describe what you want to see. While many say they appreciate pragmatism in their candidates, few tolerate realism, which in governance more often than not constitute the same thing. The platforms of these candidates have to take the form of a promise to have any pertinence with your constituents.
Seemingly most people aren’t interested in candidates who hold legislating above all else and, while committed to their platform, are willing to compromise or falter from their position for the sake of incremental progress. It indicates weakness on the candidates part and signals to their constituents that they are not serious about their beliefs. This is why given the choice between making a promise they can’t keep and keeping expectations in check, most politicians will choose the former every time. Especially in an environment where a majority of politicians choose to “govern” this way, sticking out and keeping expectations tempered means responsible representatives are singled out and lambasted for their inaction or perceived wavering commitment, while unrealistic ones are celebrated for their commitment to their respective cause. After all, in a divided government neither side will be able to keep their promises.
While politicians may not be able to commit to accomplishing their promises, they do what is in their mind the next best thing, they grandstand. By at the very least looking like they are sticking to their guns and not budging, they maintain their promise without having to do the dirty work of compromising and actually doing any work. So, while a politician may have good intentions and very well may believe they can pass a piece of legislation, more likely than not they are promising you because they know they can get away with it.