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Will Obama's promises get mugged by reality?

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

Bruce Reed, who served President Clinton, said: "Campaign promises" should be seen as "gospel." They are "sacrosanct." He said that Mr. Clinton saw the campaign as the "ultimate job interview," and that the administration's success in honoring his campaign promises would determine whether the president would be "rehired." Mr. Reed described the extent to which this commitment filtered down to Clinton's staff. On Clinton's first day in office, The Washington Post ran a full-page spread listing all of his pledges. Reed and other staffers posted the list above their desks and referred to it on a daily basis.

2. Does the president prioritize the most fundamental campaign promises?

The president must take care in prioritizing his campaign promises. The more fundamental and categorical the promise, the more responsibility the president has to carry it through and the less forgiving will be the response if that promise is broken.

Margaret Spellings, who counseled President George W. Bush during his first term, confirmed that the promise Bush made to reform our educational system was one of the "must haves" (as opposed to the "nice to haves"). The "No Child Left Behind" program was the central initiative in Bush's domestic policy, and he spoke frequently and knowledgeably about its importance and implementation. As a result, the electorate understood the high priority he placed on educational reform. While Ms. Spellings acknowledged that "9/11 changed everything," and constrained Bush in pushing forward his promise of educational reform, he was nevertheless successful in getting most of his promised educational reform legislation passed.

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