by Jerry Richardson 9/9/14
Which is worse, a broken promise or a lie? Many of us have read, reflected-upon, and sometimes written about how often President Obama lies. But worse, from my perspective, are major promises that he so easily makes and breaks. One of these broken promises won him a “Lie of the Year” award:
“It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system.
“ ‘If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,’ President Barack Obama said — many times — of his landmark new law.
“But the promise was impossible to keep.
“So this fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong.”
—Lie of the Year
Some people classify a broken promise as a lie. The broken promise discussed in the quote above was called “Lie of the Year”. Broken promises and lies are both deceptions, but there is a fundamental difference.
A broken promise always impacts the future.
A lie usually impacts our perception of the past. In other words, a broken promise is a future-tense activity; a lie is a past-tense activity. Of course it is true that if a person takes some action based upon his perception of the past, and the past was falsified (lied about), then it does indeed affect the future. Or as the famous quote from Orwell’s novel, 1984, puts it:
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
So my tidy demarcation between broken promises and lies is not completely black and white; it does not totally rest upon contrary concepts, but depends upon my own simple observation that many people who would not ordinarily lie will, under certain circumstance, break a promise.
And not necessarily because they initially intended to break a promise, but because events have transpired that can make two or more promises impossible to keep simultaneously because they have become mutually exclusive—a case of cannot do both; cannot do one if you do the other.
Broken political-campaign promises are often a classic case of over-commitment of available or potentially-available resources or assets.
One of the best TV-series illustrations of this that I have ever watched occurs on the hit series, The Wire. Be advised, this series makes for “rough” watching; if you have any sense of moral decency this TV-series will offend you multiple times, in every episode.
But the movie does present, I believe, a very accurate picture of life as lived in a major Democrat-run city: Baltimore Maryland. The last Republican mayor of Baltimore was Theodore R. McKeldin (1963-1967). So, Baltimore has been under Democrat-mayoral control for the past 47 years. This alone accounts for many of the on-going problems in the city.
The person of focus for this discussion is fictional mayor Thomas J. Carcetti played by Irish actor Aidan Gillen. In The Wire, Carcetti, who is a city-councilman, runs against the incumbent mayor, Clarence Royce, played by Glynn Turman.
Carcetti unseats incumbent mayor Royce by a combination of hard-work, shrewd politics, and campaign promises. Campaign promises? Of course, the fictional mayor, Thomas Carcetti, just like the real-life Baltimore mayors for the past 47 years is a Democrat.
Sure enough, his campaign promises come back to haunt him.
Carcetti’s biggest haunt was his promised-commitment to clean-up the drug-trade-driven crime that was running rampant under incumbent mayor Clarence Royce. Carcetti’s promise clearly would necessitate an increase in law-enforcement expenditures—more officer overtime, more police-action, all needed to stop the violence associated with the ubiquitous drug-trafficking in Baltimore.
But after Carcetti won, came the bad-news of an unexpected financial conflict with his primary campaign promise of improved law-enforcement. The Baltimore School System was discovered to be $54 Million dollars in the red. Carcetti was deeply committed to supporting the public-school system; and naturally, being a Democrat, committed to playing-ball with the teacher’s union.
With this classic over-commitment conflict, Carcetti had no choice but to break promises.
The TV-series dramatically highlights some of Carcetti’s promises, prior to his election, as he was making the promises to select members of the police force; then, after his election, when unexpected financial over-commitment conflicts arise, the series dramatically highlights the anger and the sense of betrayal of several members of the police-force—all due to Carcetti’s broken-promises. Carcetti had made personal promises, and then he broke those personal promises.
The Wire is a gripping TV-portrayal of all sorts of social and political evil including the evil inherent in making promises that you cannot keep.
I intentionally label the act of making a promise you cannot keep evil. But, please read carefully, I am NOT saying that anyone who breaks a promise is evil. If this were so, all of us would likely be labeled evil for the simple reason that it is virtually impossible to go through this life and not break any promises.
But, that does not change the fact that a promise you cannot keep, a broken promise, is per se an evil act; because a broken-promise often causes enormous harm, sometime physically or financially as well as emotionally. In the best case—which cannot negate the damage—a broken promise causes “only” a relationship-impairment: a sense of betrayal; a loss of trust.
We currently have a President who is a leader in this sort of relationship-impairment.
Many of President Obama’s defenders use and rely on the ole stand-by Progressive/Democrat good-intentions defense. “Well, Obama didn’t intend to break his promise, something (select any item from the favored scapegoat list) prevented him from doing what he fully intended to do; It wasn’t his fault; The Republicans are to blame.”
To this I respond: Good-intentions have no bearing upon the moral evaluation of a broken promise. Good-intentions, if they can actually be known, may have bearing upon the character of an individual who breaks a promise; but not upon the moral evaluation of the broken promise itself.
As an act, a broken-promise is always evil.
This is why promises should never be lightly made. A promise that you likely cannot keep is a foolish promise. But also a promise in which you do not know with reasonable certainty what the results of keeping the promise will be is also a foolish promise.
One of the saddest stories of a foolish promise in all literature is the biblical story of Jephthah’s daughter, found in the Old Testament book of Judges. The story is especially instructive because it highlights the fact that even (or maybe especially) a foolish promise to God is still a foolish promise.
Jephthah, a military leader of Israel, in Old Testament days, made a vow to God that if God would grant him victory in battle over the Ammonites (an enemy of Israel):
“…then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” —Judges 11:31 NASB
Jephthah did defeat the Ammonites and, in fact, he “slaughtered” them. But then when he returned from the big victory to his home:
“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.’” —Judges 11:34-35 NASB
The heart-breaking foolishness of Jephthah’s promise can be clearly seen. His promise was foolish because he actually had no clue when he made the promise (vow) to God what or who might come-out to greet him when he returned home. He did not know with reasonable certainty what the result of keeping his promise would be. He made a serious promise (vow) based upon an unknown and obviously unpredictable future occurrence. The result was a disaster.
The final outcome was that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as he had vowed; and he was even encouraged by his daughter to keep his vow to God! Obviously not a modern ”Material Girl.”
We can all debate the evil of Jephthah’s keeping his foolish promise to God versus the ostensible evil of breaking his foolish promise to God. But the real point here is:
Do not make foolish promises—evil will result.
When someone, politician or otherwise, makes a promise without knowing with reasonable certainty, that they can (be able to and want to) keep that promise, they are risking the possibility of an evil act.
The promise-breaking indictment against Barack Obama (not just as President but throughout his known political life) is not only that he has repeatedly made promises without knowing with reasonable certainty that the promises can be kept; it also appears that he has often made promises knowing that they likely cannot be kept; this is very akin to what Peter Ferrara of Forbes Magazine has labeled “Calculated Deception.” These deceptions are to-be-expected from someone who will say whatever they imagine will sound-good to their targeted listeners in any situation.
I submit that Barack Obama’s signature political action: Making promises without knowing with reasonable certainty that they can be kept; renders his multitude of easily-proven lies, by comparison, somewhat trivial.
President Obama promised (assured) Americans of the future stability of Iraq when he pulled American troops out of Iraq in 2011. He was urged by many, especially Republicans not to withdraw all the troops but to leave a usefully-large contingent (10 to 12 thousand); but Obama refused to aggressively pursue a sensible SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Iraq (Prime Minister: Nouri al-Maliki) that would have resulted in enough remaining US military forces in Iraq to have likely prevented the current ISIS expansion in Iraq.
Of course, Obama in his usual dishonest fashion insists that it was Iraq’s fault and not his. So President Obama withdrew all the US Forces and “promised” that Iraq would be secure. Now that it obviously isn’t, and now that his promise of stability is seen to have been empty words, of course someone else has to be blamed:
“It was an applause line during almost every campaign address made by President Obama in 2012: ‘I promised to end the war in Iraq, and I did.’
“President Obama ordered a full troop withdrawal from Iraq, which was completed in December 2011. But the country did not stabilize, as was predicted by Obama and key members of his administration.
“ ‘Keep in mind, that wasn’t a decision made by me,’ he said. ‘That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.’
“Yet, as the Washington Post reported, Obama tried to draw a clear distinction between himself and Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 by clearly stating he didn’t want to have [to] leave any troops in Iraq at all:
“ ’With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,’ Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. ‘That’s not true,’ Obama interjected. ‘Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?’ Romney asked as an argument ensued. ‘No,’ Obama said. ‘What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.’ “
—Bombs over Erbil
I contend: A broken promise is worse than a lie.
© 2014, Jerry Richardson • (3044 views)