The heaving surf and blustery winds of the presidential race provoked a rash act on Mitt Romney’s would-be ship of state this week. With little warning and undeniable bravery (or foolishness) Captain Romney stalked out to the edge of a political plank to make a bold proclamation about what his first term would bring.
“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, or perhaps a little lower,” he told Time’s Mark Halperin.
And in the waters below, the political critics beat the waves to foam and gnashed their teeth, because they know if he is elected and this plank breaks, he’s shark bait.
Of course, that has never stopped candidates before. Oh sure, most of the time they stick with vague pledges to bring immeasurable things like, oh say, hope and change. But in every election, the big players always figure they have to put a few solid promises into play, and the unemployment situation is always an attractive target.
President Barack Obama has strolled along the same plank. Just before taking office, his team issued an assessment of the stimulus plan that projected it would keep unemployment below 8 percent. Contrary to Republican claims, this was not precisely a promise, and the administration has acknowledged that their team’s read on the economy’s resilience was overly optimistic. Still, the impression remains among many voters that Mr. Obama made a pledge and unemployment has been above 8 percent pretty much ever since.
The real problem with making promises about the unemployment rate is that they are almost always destined to be broken. There are simply too many factors involved — factors that presidents can’t control. Still, you can understand the appeal for the candidates: Even if it’s risky, the view of the White House is just magnificent from the end of the plank.
–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”
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