11 Meaningless Promises Politicians Repeat That Americans Love


Politicians lie all the time, and that irks me, but what irks me more is when politicians pretend to be dumb and spew poll-tested phrases that simplify complex issues into a political soundbite. Below, I've detailed a few examples from both parties. The one thing that unifies these examples is that they tend to be effective as political rhetoric.

1. "We're going to stop rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas."

No, you're not. Politicians often promise to protect American manufacturing or halt the inevitable force of globalization. For more than a generation, this sort of pandering has put false hope into the heads of blue collar workers who have watched their jobs move overseas. Are there ways of bribing companies with incentives and subsidies to keep them in America? Sure. I support some of them! These are transitional approaches as we retrain our workforce. And there are some American manufacturing industries that may stabilize thanks to growing costs in China and elsewhere. But the quote above oversimplifies the issue and blames some tax incentive that barely makes a difference.

2. "They want to raise taxes on the job creators."

For close to two decades, conservatives referred to the rich as "hard-working Americans" in their rhetoric. In 2009, they switched out that phrase with "job creators". It's brilliant political rhetoric. The best political messaging boils down an issue to a level of idiocy that is impenetrable without resorting to many paragraphs of nuance. When many Americans hear this rhetoric, they imagine a "job creator" sitting with a pile of money calculating how many jobs to create. They then imagine the government taking a bit of that money. The job creator then says "Oh no!" (in a Mickey Mouse voice), picks up their calculator, and realizes that they can't create as many jobs. I admire conservatives for coming up with this language. It's at about the intellectual level of "Let's get em'!" but it's great. Of course, anyone who has run a business or budgeted for a business knows that this sort of calculation does not occur in the real world. Companies do not change their hiring behavior based on a small increase in the top marginal income tax rate. The ones that do limit hiring on't understand how marginal tax rates work.

3. "The Federal Reserve is printing money."

This one taps into populist anger about debt, paranoia about the Fed, and fear of inflation. Federal Reserve policy has its flaws and inflation is something to keep an eye on, but the extreme critiques of the Fed fall well outside of mainstream economics. Quantitative easing may or may not be the right policy, but it's not going to cause the end of civilization of the destruction of America. Fed hawks have waged a fairly successful campaign to scare the extreme left and right about the actions of the Fed using economic gibberish that has no basis at all in reality. How long have gold bugs been predicting massive inflation? Since 2009? Where's the inflation? I'm not seeing it. And the markets aren't predicting it either. A t-bill is still the safest investment in the world.

A few more:

4. "Uncertainty and regulations are crushing the economy." or "Uncertainty about future taxes is stifling the recovery."

No, according to almost every survey of businesses available, they're actually not.

5. "Gas prices are at record levels and oil companies are making record profits. We need to stop giving tax breaks to oil companies."

Sure, OK, I'm with you on some of these corporate subsidies. But is this really going to bring down gas prices?

6. "The United States is a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. These lawbreakers need to be deported."

This one reeks of years of poll testing. It brilliantly brushes aside all of the nuance and practical realities of the immigration debate while attempting to avoid charges of nativism. Much respect!

7. "So much for the politics of hope..." or "So much for civility..." or "So much for (her/his) promise to run a positive campaign..."

These are used against candidates like Obama, McCain, or anyone else who promises to elevate the tone and then engages in an issue-based attack against their opponent. Because once you promise to elevate the tone, you are no longer able to launch a single issue-based attack on your opponents!

8. "Obamacare is a government takeover of our health care system."

Huh? Are you aware of the existence of single-payer insurance? Or government-run health care? A public option? A national insurance exchange? Obamacare has none of these things.

9. "The Senate hasn't passed a budget in X hundred days!"

And this is a pressing concern, why? Are you desperate to see Harry Reid have more input into the budget process? Do you even understand the budget process? I didn't think so.

10. "We need to stop building firehouses in Iraq and start building them in America!"

Who can argue with this? And yet, politicians never tried to cancel all fire departments in Iraq. One wonders if it is just empty rhetoric. It takes hours to peel away the stupidity of this rhetorical onion. 

11. "This is political payback to union thugs/cronies/bosses!"

I love this one. It has successfully transformed millions of teachers, firefighters, and others who dare to try to keep their jobs, level of pay, or benefits into Tony Soprano. Sadly, use of this rhetoric suggests a shift from a world where teachers are revered public servants to a world where teachers are corrupt scam artists attempting to fleece the public.