Texas Gov. Rick Perry rolled out an ambitious policy initiative Tuesday called “Uproot and Overhaul Washington.” Some of the proposal is new, some of it is old — but all together it’s bold, another case in campaign 2012 of a candidate running hard against Washington, making grand pledges that there will be no more “business as usual.”
But to change Washington, you must work within Washington as it is. And, if you don't know how it works, how will you be better than President Obama? He didn't have clue, and it shows.
I hope that everyone running for president and pledging to change Washington also has a secret plan on how they will be effective in Washington. No one is going to be elected dictator. While it is good to let voters know what you would do if you had sole authority, it is also proper to acknowledge that you know something about how politics and the government really works. Most of what Perry announces will draw polite applause with Republican audiences. Almost none of it will become law.
As Carter and I have said before, the issues we talk about in the campaign are not the same as the issues our politicians inherit after they get elected. Perry is just the most recent example of someone running for office, pledging to do things that they cannot do. This feeds the cycle of cynicism, which leads to the growing discontent of the American voter.
Where are the wise elders who can tell candidates such as Perry how to espouse lofty goals without stating that the impossible will occur or causing more tired, eye-rolling sighs among voters?
Former senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.), as House minority whip and majority leader of the Senate, was quick to remind his colleagues after something they had supported had been defeated that “there is always the next vote.” What he meant is you have to manage your political relationships so that you can live to fight another day, in the hopes of being more effective in the future.
Whoever gets elected president is going to inherit a legislative branch with a mind of its own, a judicial branch that is sometimes activist and is sometimes not, independent regulators, governors who have an important say in how government works, a host of public and private sector non-governmental organizations that want to advocate their own point of view and defend their turf, and a news media that will critique every policy, personnel, and political overture that the president makes.
The combination of over-promising and under-delivering isn’t just bad politics that you’ll have to reckon with at reelection. It contributes to paralysis in government, and our voters are almost at wit’s end. If Obama were effective in Washington, we’d be having fewer problems -- and there was no argument in 2008 that he was a Washington expert. I understand the need to run as an outsider, but keep in mind the benefit that will come from quietly contemplating the fact that you will need to be effective once you get here.