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Will Obama's promises get mugged by reality?

Modern presidents have struggled to keep their campaign pledges. Here's how we can judge Obama's record.

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The danger of being "mugged by reality" looms for a new president as he tries to follow through on campaign promises.

In the 1988 campaign, George H.W. Bush pledged to not raise taxes. "Read my lips! No new taxes!" he assured the country. That line helped him win. When under severe economic pressures as president, however, he reversed course, supported a tax increase, and severely damaged his quest for reelection.

President Bush was not alone in his decision to renege. Modern US presidents have fulfilled less than 70 percent of their campaign promises, according to historical studies. So the question arises: How can citizens fairly judge a president's promises?

In his remarks to gay activists at the White House earlier this summer, President Obama said: "I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps."

He may have meant to emphasize that results matter. Fair enough. But at face value, it sounds like we should disregard his "words" and "promises" he can't or won't keep and only look at the results of those promises he decides are important. That's disconcerting.

Promises matter. That was the consensus of former top presidential domestic policy advisers who participated recently at a symposium at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. These advisers spoke candidly about the "realities" that assault new presidents, and they shared some ideas about how citizens can evaluate a president's promises. Here are three:

1. Do the president and his staff regard campaign promises as gospel?

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