How should we evaluate a political promise?

As a statement of intentions. That’s what it is, it’s all it can be.

Many years ago I was suffering over a broken promise given to me by a man of whom I was enamored.

I don’t like myself when I whine; over that broken promise I was whining, “But he promised!” (I shudder to repeat this. Boo hiss, me.)

That’s when someone told me something profound: a promise is a statement of intentions. That’s all it is, that’s all it can be.

Memorize it: A promise is a statement of intentions.

Apply this truth – not quite a fact – especially to statements made by politicians. A politician’s promise can only be a statement of intentions, what she wants to do if elected to office. A political promise is shorthand for the politician’s values, for his belief in government and how government should work.

Either we evaluate a political promise as a statement of intentions, or we could insist that every such statement be followed by a warning:

This promise is a forward-looking statement by one individual who, in order to come anywhere close to effectuating it, will have to work within a government structure containing around 1000 other people, some of whom may be making contradictory promises to their constituents. You may love what this promise offers, but you should not bet the bank that the person promising it will be immediately able to make the entire thing a law without compromise. All you can hold her to is an intelligent and heartfelt effort to make the promise come true.

A statement of intentions that has not flowered into law is not a lie; a politician who is not able to enact his stated intentions should not be labeled a liar.

Conversely, a politician who makes no effort to enact his previously stated intentions is a liar.

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