Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil

Candidates simplify issues. Pandering to voters, they make bold promises.

Once elected, office holders must deal with complex solutions to complex problems and often fail to keep their promises, usually because the solutions require the agreement of others.

Presidents and governors depend on Congress and legislatures in dealing with most major issues. The nature of government itself keeps either branch from entirely having its way, creating the gap between promise and performance. The inability to produce simple solutions leaves voters disappointed, frustrated and recently even angry about their leaders’ failure to keep their promises.

Remember that candidate Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison in his first year as president. It’s still open. And now, the current candidates’ promises show that simple solutions face some impossible political tests.

Take Bernie Sanders’ promise that he will end fracking in the U.S. That’s the process for extracting new volumes of oil and gas from deep in the earth and replacing the fuels with contaminated water. No wonder he opposes it.

But there is more to fracking than that. The massive new amounts of oil found in the U.S. have made the country virtually independent of oil from the Middle

East. No longer does American policy have to be influenced by the recognition of the country’s dependence on Middle East potentates.

And the availability of oil from fracking, making the U.S. the largest producer of oil and related liquids, has added so much new supply that the price of oil has tumbled. That has shown up in the drastically reduced price of gasoline and home heating oil, a benefit to consumers.

If Sanders’ proposal to end fracking were adopted, the U.S. would again be dependent on the sheikhs. Oil company profits would soar. Would the man who rails against the super rich really want to enrich them further by ending fracking? And, at the same time, the proposal would result in higher prices for average customers.

The fracking companies might be able to defeat a ban. A possible compromise would be much tougher environmental rules aimed at completely protecting drinking water quality and preventing geologic change, like earthquakes. That would be difficult enough, but is likely easier to achieve than an outright ban. But it’s too complicated to be a campaign proposal.

Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a deal among a dozen Pacific Rim countries. By lowering trade barriers with these countries, they warn the government will jeopardize American jobs.

Freer trade would cost some American workers their jobs. But it would also create job opportunities. The net impact would probably be small.

The candidates do not mention is that the TPP’s purpose is not mainly about trade. It is about creating a community of countries on the Pacific Rim to block China’s expansionist plans. The phony islands that it has created in international waters are tangible examples of its Pacific area ambitions.

Rejecting the TPP would mean the U.S. would ignore the appeal by other countries for a close relationship with the U.S. to block the threat of Chinese expansion. Opposing the TPP because of its effect on some American workers means seeing only one part of a bigger picture.

This major debate will extend into the next president’s term. Both the concerns of labor and the country’s strategic interests must be considered. The deal might be approved with help for displaced workers going beyond the failed jobs programs of the past. Like all trade deals, it should bring some benefit to customers.

If a compromise is reached, some voters will feel cheated. Few will have voted based on their concerns about China. More voters will have wanted the deal killed. They will be disappointed by what they could see as an unfulfilled political promise.

How about Trump’s support for torture because he believes it works? It also makes him appear tough on America’s adversaries.

Could Congress change the law to allow it? That’s unlikely, because the use of torture by the U.S. would invite the torture of American prisoners.

Trump says he can balance the budget by cutting waste and inefficiency. Presidents must rely on the Congress to cut spending, but “wasteful” spending often helps members’ constituents or supporters.

Each year, the Senate receives a report on duplicate federal programs that could be consolidated, producing real savings without cutting any services or support. Nothing ever happens. It’s doubtful that any president will make a serious dent in waste and inefficiency. But it’s a nice promise.

Beware of the promises of presidential candidates. If elected, they will almost surely disappoint you.


Gordon Weil is a former public official. He lives in Harpswell.

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