Promises made, promises broken

The public is restive. Office holders are under pressure, as people are riled up for the most common of reasons — broken promises on issues that hit home.

Americans who were economically frustrated are still struggling because while most economic indicators are positive, this hasn’t translated into prosperity for most. The swamp rises, with lobbyists and donors seeing their wish lists fulfilled.

People across the political spectrum were mad that big bankers and Wall Street companies were never prosecuted for their role in causing the 2008 economic collapse.

Now controls over banks and financial institutions adopted in 2010 and 2011 to safeguard consumers are being cut. As an ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Seth Frotman, put it in a resignation letter, “the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting. Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

And then there’s health care. People suffer real harm or even die because they refrained from going to the doctor or didn’t fill a prescription because they’re worried about costs.

Republicans claimed they had ways to make health care better and, if only they were elected, they would get in there, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and put those policies in place.

In October 2016, Trump promised, “You’re going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it is going to be so easy.”

Right after the election, Trump claimed changing health policy would be seamless and wonderful, telling reporter Lesley Stahl, “[W]’re going to do it simultaneously. It’ll be just fine. We’re not going to have, like, a two-day period and we’re not going to have a two-year period where there’s nothing. It will be repealed and replaced. And we’ll know. And it’ll be great health care for much less money. So it’ll be better health care, much better, for less money.”

But the bills released by congressional Republicans would have led to tens of millions of Americans losing coverage. Repeal was stopped in 2017 by all Democrats and three GOP senators — Susan Collins, John McCain and Lisa Murkowski.

Rather than stand by his vote repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would have imposed higher premiums on seniors than others, limited coverage for pre-existing conditions, cut subsidies for people purchasing insurance, and slashed Medicaid, Rep. Bruce Poliquin scrubbed his website, removing his previously posted promise to “end” the law. His campaign spokesperson defended this change, saying that Poliquin voted against repeal before he voted for it.

Another promise involves women’s ability to decide if they want an abortion. After building an independent persona, in part based on being pro-choice and attracting votes on this basis from Democrats and unenrolled voters, Collins last week complained that tens of thousands of people are pledging money for an unnamed, eventual Democratic 2020 opponent, if Collins votes for Kavanaugh. Absurdly, Collins called this bribery.

Sen. Susan Collins meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at her Senate office in Washington on Aug. 21. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

And, with her offices receiving a great many calls and letters, Collins complained about the small portion that were offensive and uncivil.

Groups on opposite sides of the abortion debate agree on Kavanaugh’s anti-abortion position. So does Sen. Angus King, who concluded that Kavanaugh “may not vote directly to repeal Roe – though I think his record indicates that he will – but he will almost certainly vote to whittle away its protections, leaving not much more than a hollow shell.”

Another issue involves claims from Christine Blasey Ford that, when she was 15, Kavanaugh and a male friend who were a couple of years older and rather drunk, assaulted her. Ford, now a psychologist, told her husband and therapist about the incident years ago. Kavanaugh says this never happened. Collins has rightly asked for both to testify “under oath before the Judiciary Committee.”

Collins has always stood for the Senate following good processes, yet she backed away from her call for Kavanaugh to release all his documents.

Standing firm on one’s promises and positions isn’t easy. Abandoning them can make sense if circumstances change but, if this is done, the public deserves clear and convincing explanations.

Beset by pressures from groups and constituents, being an elected official is tough. But, as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen.” And if politicians don’t leave on their own, voters can make that choice.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.