Election 2012

5 Broken Democratic Promises from 2008

As the party gets set to re-convene, take a tour through the ghosts of broken DNC vows past.


CHARLOTTE—In the 48 hours before the Democratic National Convention was gaveled into session, chattering-class talk focused on the governing party's bungling of the classic question for presidential incumbents: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a leading surrogate for President Barack Obama, answered the question on Face the Nation Sunday with a blunt and certainly plausible "no." Over on Fox News, campaign strategist David Axelrod countered, "We're in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy." On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor and DNC Chair Antonio Villaraigosa said on CBS News that "Of course, if you're recently unemployed, you're not better off. But the fact of the matter is, as a nation, we are better off." At a rally, Vice President Joe Biden said "You want to know whether we're better off?…I've got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive." Campaign spokesman Stephanie Cutter settled on the over-confident "absolutely" on Monday, and before you know it Martin O'Malley was walking it back with a "We are clearly better off as a country because we're creating jobs rather than losing them. We have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That's why we need to continue to move forward."

Got that?

Democratic sympathizers pointed out that the question is less than 100 percent fair, since George W. Bush was in office four years ago, and the nation was three weeks away from a financial crisis that would send the economy into free-fall by the time Obama took the oath of office. But as delegates and the media re-convene four years after Obama's historical Democratic coronation in Denver, it is not only fair but necessary and instructive to look at how the newly Democratic White House and Congress lived up to its own vows from the 2008 DNC.

Some promises—like hunting down Osama bin Laden and enacting universal health insurance—were certainly kept. But here's a list of five that weren't.

1) Creating Five Million "Green Jobs"

In his acceptance speech, echoing scores of similar claims throughout the 2008 DNC, candidate Obama vowed that, "I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

The investment part of the pledge is well-spoken for—$80 billion in the stimulus alone. But as The New York Times concluded one year ago (and as Reason has long predicted), "Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed." Central planning of the alternative energy business was a disaster under Jimmy Carter, and it has been a wipeout under Barack Obama.

2) Balancing the Budget

In his 2008 speech, Obama acknowledged that many of his policies (including goosing the alt-energy industry) would cost money, "which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime—by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less."

While you can already hear the Democratic retort that The Financial Crisis Changed Everything, it's important to note that Obama was still campaigning on a "net spending cut" after the financial crisis hit. The 2008 DNC was filled with ringing denunciations of how George W. Bush increased the national debt and deficit, and that the Democratic Party would restore fiscal rectitude. The party platform promised that, "In this time of economic transformation and crisis, we must be stewards of this economy more than ever before. We will maintain fiscal responsibility, so that we do not mortgage our children's future on a mountain of debt."

3) Refusing to Raise Taxes on the Middle Class

In his 2008 DNC speech, echoing a daily campaign theme, Obama said "I will cut taxes—cut taxes—for 95 percent of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."

How's that promise working out? Let's go to Washington Examiner columnist Timothy P. Carney:

Surely you recall his famous campaign promise "If you make less than $250,000 a year, you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime." Well, after creating a tobacco tax and a tanning tax, prohibiting deductions for over-the-counter medications, and imposing the individual-mandate tax—all of which apply to people earning well under $250,000—Obama had the chutzpah to tell Bill O'Reilly, "I haven't raised taxes once."

4) Reforming Immigration

The 2008 Democratic Party platform stated, "We are committed to pursuing tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration."

Not only did that first year pass without so much as a nod toward immigration reform, the Obama administration has been deporting illegal immigrants like crazy, leaving Hispanic Caucus Democrats in the awkward position of changing the subject to health care, and otherwise blaming Republicans.

5) Restoring America's Moral Standing in the World

From Obama's 2008 DNC speech: "I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan….I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future."

Going through that list, the war in Iraq is ongoing and the U.S. military still has a massive footprint there even with the withdrawal of combat troops. The fight in Afghanistan is nowhere near finished. Global climate change diplomacy is in full disarray, and there are many who describe what is happening in Syria nowadays as "genocide." Add to that Obama's aggressive drone strikes all over the globe, and the ongoing operation of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and it's hard to build a case that our "moral standing" has been restored.

As in all of these promises, delivering is hard, and sometimes following through would make the world a worse, not better, place. But politicians should be judged not only by the wisdom of their actions, but by the yardsticks they themselves put into place, if for no reason than to temper our enthusiasm for whatever they promise today, and also to disabuse ourselves from the fantasy that the key to solving an intractable problem is selecting the right team.

Something to keep in mind as you scroll through the newly released 2012 Democratic Party platform.

NEXT: Bomb at Funeral Kills 25 in Eastern Afghanistan

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  1. millions more are unemployed than when Obama took office, median income is down, gas costs $2 more a gallon, the actual size of the labor force has shrunk making the jobless rate appear far lower than it actually is, the Muslim world no more likes us today than it did under the evil Booosh, and based on Isaac, doesn’t look like the waters are receding, either.

    But other than all that, of course, we’re better off, if by better you mean closer to becoming just another spot on the map.

    1. But our President won a Nobel peace prize for being “inspiring”.

    2. Racist.

  2. The renewable energy obsession is flat out religous superstition. It is as if a fundamentalist Christian were elected President and decided to base national health policy on prayer circles. Renewable energy is just as stupid and even more counter productive.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, John.*

      *Post heavily altered to make it past the effing squirrels gatekeeping.

    2. How can you be such a cold rationalist?

      Renewable energy feels good! It’s about saving the planet! I mean, how cool is that?
      By forcing people to use higher priced renewable energy against their will, you can save the planet!
      So what if the Chinese are building a coal fired power plant every week, if you do your part you can save the planet!
      Why don’t you want to save the planet, John? What kind of corporate monster are you? How much is Big Oil paying you?
      Shill! Shill! Prove you’re not a shill, you shill!

      1. You can’t save Holy Mother Gaia without dicing a few migratory birds as a sacrifice.

        1. but diced migratory birds, especially waterfowl, on a baguette, with arugula (BHO loves arugula) are tasty. So fuck the planet, I want my lunch.

  3. 1) Creating Five Million “Green Jobs”

    Presidents can’t create private sector jobs, as we know. They can remove their own impediments to job creation. Obama has failed to do this. The green part is irrelevant.

    2) Balancing the Budget

    If only the country would let him raise taxes to meet his spending.

    3) Refusing to Raise Taxes on the Middle Class

    Well, raise more taxes.

    4) Reforming Immigration

    Unions don’t like the cheap labor competition, what can he say?

    5) Restoring America’s Moral Standing in the World

    As soon as the drones kill everyone who doesn’t like us, America is going to smell like roses.

    1. Well, raise more taxes.


    2. They can remove their own impediments to job creation.

      sadly, that statement reflects a minority viewpoint. I don’t know how many liberals I’ve heard saying “if only a jobs bill had been passed……” If that’s all it took, there would never be unemployment.

      1. “if only a jobs bill had been passed……”
        Jobs Bill:
        All excavation shall be done with teaspoons.
        That’s about as good as we could expect from the federal government.

        1. A 3 word law that would eliminate unemployment:

          Farm equipment illegal

    3. Well, he was apperently thwarted by the rethuglicans in his entire first term. It will be different this time around, we promise!

      1. How did the Rethugs stop him when they were a super minority in the Senate and a minority in the house? Er. Uh. Wait. Never mind.

        1. With laser beams of hateful hate.

  4. He made promises about warrantless wiretapping that were broken.

    For one thing, under an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and “wiretaps without warrants,” he said.

    It’s hardly a new stance for Obama, who has made similar statements in previous campaign speeches, but mention of the issue in a stump speech, alongside more frequently discussed topics like Iraq and education, may give some clue to his priorities.

    In our own Technology Voters’ Guide, when asked whether he supports shielding telecommunications and Internet companies from lawsuits accusing them of illegal spying, Obama gave us a one-word response: “No.”

    —-c|net January 8, 2008


    So that’s what he promised. What did he do once he got in office?

    On January 23, 2009, the administration of President Barack Obama adopted the same position as his predecessor when it urged U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to set aside a ruling in Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation et al. v. Obama, et al.[43] The Obama administration also sided with the former administration in its legal defense of July, 2008 legislation that immunized the nation’s telecommunications companies from lawsuits accusing them of complicity in the eavesdropping program, according to testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder.[44]


    1. Gitmo, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, and assassination without trial were only bad because we didn’t have Top Men at the helm. We can trust Barack.

  5. So, what happened between January 8, 2008 and January 23, 2009?

    Obama got elected, and that changes everything! …as far as Obama’s concerned. When he gets reelected, that’ll change everything, too.

    If Obama lied about that promise to get elected, he’d lie about all the promises he’s making now to get reelected, too.

  6. Not a fan of Obama but it seems strange to criticize him for both not attacking Syria and for attacking people in other countries. Is the criticism suppose to be for attacking too many countries or not enough countries?

    Another lie was Obama telling the voters in Ohio that he would renegotiate NAFTA. Of course the good news was that Obama kept his promise given at the same time to the Canadians that he would not renegotiate NAFTA

    1. Always a possible view that he isn’t attacking the right countries.

    2. As was pointed out in the final couple sentences of the article, the point wasn’t to criticize the results of his broken promises, but merely to point out which promises he made and then did pretty much the exact opposite.

  7. Matt, your first link in the second paragraph of the 6th page, “Going through that list, the war in Iraq is ongoing and the U.S….” is from 2009, and hardly mentions the war in Iraq at all, let alone that it’s still going on. Did you mean for that to link to something else?

    1. Busted! Nobody ever clicks the damned links!

  8. “…campaign strategist David Axelrod countered, “We’re in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy.”

    What the fuck does that mean Dave? I am being held down in an uncomfortable position and ass raped, but I manage to squirm a bit and relieve some of the discomfort of my position so I am in a better position while I am being ass raped? What a gratuitous sophist. I think you need your ass kicked Dave, then you would be in a better position to shut the fuck up.

  9. i guess i know why president say they’re going to create “x” amount of jobs, but has anyone ever done it….actually met that number? i won’t even get literal and will ignore the argument that presidents don’t create jobs, only business does, etc. also, i don’t count clinton because he got lucky with the tech boom and that’s just too much of a helping hand.

    anyone ever met their number that we know of in the time they promised?

  10. Please for the love of God could you give us back the single page view!!!!

    1. You damn socialist. Each promise gets it’s own page, but you don’t like that, do you? You want them to share some sort of socialized page? A communal page, where none of them get their own space, but they have to share it? Screw you, fasco-anti-colonialist-socialist you.

  11. Well, after creating a tobacco tax and a tanning tax, prohibiting deductions for over-the-counter medications, and imposing the individual-mandate tax?all of which apply to people earning well under $250,000?Obama had the chutzpah to tell Bill O’Reilly, “I haven’t raised taxes once.”

    Depends on what you mean by raise. Creating new taxes such as the tobacco and tanning taxes, and the healthcare penaltax technically don’t count as “raising” taxes. Prohibiting deductions on over the counter meds could also be spun as him closing a loophole. I don’t think he ever promised not to create entirely new taxes out of whole cloth.

    1. So then the only thing that counts as raising taxes is changing the federal tax bracket %s?
      I would say that is disingenuous, to say the least.

  12. In 2008 the Obama make too much promises to comes into the power and some of them are not completed yet,

    1. Yep, that’s basically the theme here. Good work.

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