Candidates, please don’t promise to do anything for me.

Here's Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids...

Here’s Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids…

My family thought this was hilarious.

It was during the televised debate on the night of July 31. I was together with most of the fam down at the beach.

I had said something dismissive about Bernie Sanders, as I am wont to do. Then, I was busy writing a Tweet about something that had just been said, so my mind wandered from the next thing that was said (a hazard of real-time commentary).

My wife, who was sitting on the side of my bad ear, said, “See what Bernie’s going to do for you?” And I said, “What?” and she said, “Didn’t you hear? He wants Medicare to pay for your hearing aids!” And because she was on my bad side, I said, “He wants to WHAT?”

And everyone thought this was hilarious. They weren’t laughing AT me; they were really… Well, no, they were laughing at me. But fondly…

They all know that I have declined to look into getting hearing aids because a) conventional hearing aids wouldn’t solve the problem I have, and b) I discovered upon going on Medicare that it won’t pay for hearing aids. And personally, if I’m going to have to scrimp and save for something that expensive, I’d prefer it to be something like another trip abroad, like the one we took to Ireland earlier this year.

So now that I know Bernie wants to pay for them, I’ve gotta like Bernie a little better, right?

Wrong. In fact, I find it extremely off-putting, the idea that someone out there is making a campaign promise to do something that benefits me, personally. No, it’s not like Bernie called me on the phone and asked what Brad would most like to see changed in Medicare and then promised to do that in return for my vote, but it sort of feels like it to me.

And I don’t hold with that sort of thing.

In the universe of politics, there are few things that I find more offensive than the idea of voting for someone because you think it would benefit you personally, or “people like you” (another concept I find offensive, which is all tied up with my objections to identity politics, but that’s a whole other subject).

First, I don’t like campaign promises, period. We’ve discussed this. I vote for the person I trust most to do the job, and I’d like to see that person as unencumbered by promises as possible, so that he or she can simply do the right and smart thing with regard to any issue that arises.

But if you’re going to try to sell me on a campaign promise anyway, you’d better come prepared to persuade me that it’s the best course for the country as a whole. Don’t insult me by saying how it would benefit me personally.

Yeah, I know, I’m sounding really self-righteous, priggish even. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who are NOT middle-class white guys who feel a need for the government to redress some wrong that hurts them personally, and/or “people like them.” And I’m not judging them. I can only speak for me.

And to me, it feels just a small step away from the days when candidates handed out free booze on Election Day. There’s just too much quid pro quo to it.

Don’t try to buy my vote. Not with free hearing aids, or lower taxes, or free drinks, or whatever other goodies you have in mind. I won’t take kindly to it.

I first became all high-and-mighty about this in 1976, when I was talking about the upcoming presidential contest with a colleague at the newspaper where I worked then, my first job out of college. I mentioned that I really liked Jimmy Carter, and she said she was going to vote for Gerald Ford. With real interest, I asked why. Not because I was demanding justification for a wrongheaded act. I liked Gerald Ford, and I could think of plenty of legitimate reasons that a person might chose him. I was curious which ones mattered to her.

I was completely unprepared for what she said, which went kind of like this:

Well, my husband and I studied the candidates’ positions on issues, and we sat down and did some math, and we figured out that if Carter were elected, we’d have to pay a thousand dollars more in taxes a year. So we’re both voting for Ford.

Not, I think Carter might raise taxes, and that might have a chilling effect on the economy, or even, I think Carter might raise taxes, and on people across the country who can ill afford it. No, she was talking about a very specific effect that she expected on her pocketbook. And on that basis, she was willing to choose the Leader of the Free World (we used to call the president that back during the Cold War, kids).

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, although I don’t think she noticed. I was shocked. I was scandalized. I couldn’t believe that anyone — much less a fellow journalist (people who love money that much generally don’t choose to become journalists, and if they do, they must have been seriously misled by somebody) could possibly sell his or her franchise in such a mercenary manner. I was even more shocked that she would tell someone that, and not show any sign of being ashamed of herself.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Didn’t I know people think like that? No, I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that people could. And even though I’ve seen a thousand times since then that her way of looking at things is WAY more common than mine, I’ve never ceased to be appalled at that point of view.

I would worry that by writing this I might insult a lot of folks out there, but I justify it by telling myself that those pragmatical souls are more likely to scoff at my utterly absurd, stuffy, priggish, and completely unrealistic notion of what politics is all about. They’ll see this post as embarrassing me, not them. And all the people whose opinions they value will agree with them on this point.

Anyway, it’s been preying on my mind that I should say something, because a lot of the Democratic candidates vying to go against Trump have a tendency to make the kinds of promises I don’t like to hear.

Meanwhile, all I hear Joe Biden promising is to save our country from Trumpism. Oh, he might have a few policy positions out there (because some people out there hound him into it), but I’m ignoring them, and that’s easy to do because his main message is the one I want to hear: He wants to restore the presidency, and the country, to something reasonable human beings can respect.

And if any of the other candidates want my vote (something I’m sure they sit up nights worrying about), I just want to let them know that I don’t want to hear any promises that would benefit me, Brad Warthen, in any way, shape or form. My conscience it just too delicate to put up with that, weird as you might think I am for saying it.

Don’t ever say I didn’t tell you that.

Yeah, I realize there may be more votes in a strategy of promising folks stuff than there is in a high-minded strategy of not offending Brad.

But I can only speak for myself…

26 thoughts on “Candidates, please don’t promise to do anything for me.

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I feel like I have to apologize for myself, or add something that can make people forgive me for being so “I’m above all that” or something.

    But the thing is, I really believe in all that Frank Capra, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” stuff about what politics in America is supposed to be about. And while I used to laugh at “Green Acres” along with everyone else, I actually identified a little bit when Oliver gave his little sermons about this country and the farmer’s place in it, and the fife would start playing “Yankee Doodle.”

    And I kinda think we ALL should be that way. But I can only speak for myself.

    Oh, and do I think I’m perfect and never have a selfish thought about anything? No. My faults are legion. But whether I live up to the ideal or not, I believe that as voters, we SHOULDN’T have any selfish thoughts.

    I mean, I could applaud the idea of Medicare paying for hearing aids if I were some young kid of, say, 37 (like Pete Buttigieg) and couldn’t imagine myself either ever being on Medicare or needing a hearing aid. Or if I were independently wealthy and could afford all the hearing aids in the world, I might think it was a good policy for those OTHER people.

    But since I could benefit from it, it’s off-putting…

  2. Judy Cooper

    I feel sure that was when you were in Jackson. I’ve heard quotes from those fine folks about other candidates that would curl your hair. Most especially about Obama. I know one woman there that took to her bed for months when he was elected.
    I too, need hearing aids and can’t afford them. Did you know that over the counter hearing aids were approved by Gov. over 2 years ago? They say they will become a reality in about a year. They won’t work for me, but I think many people will benefit from them – if it really happens.
    Anyhow, I agree with you that Biden is the man to vote for. Some of the Dems are fun to listen to, but I can’t believe they could do what we need to have done.

  3. Scout

    I think hearing aids being covered would be a really good idea. And I don’t need them at the moment so I guess I can say that. Seriously though, hearing loss can significantly impact functioning and quality of life, depending on the severity. It’s kind of bazaar to me that they aren’t covered.

    That said, I’m still not necessarily on the Bernie bandwagon.

  4. Doug T

    I think it was on CBS Sunday Morning only a couple of weeks ago….what Judy said…….OTC aids without all the docs and technicians involved.

    Bernie and Warren are in a league of there own promising stuff. Unless Dems get a Senate super majority none of it will happen. But they have a lot of people drooling that’s for sure.

    Remember when David Beasley promised to cap car tax at $300? He made it happen but I wonder at whose expense…mental health? prisoners? DHEC? college tuition?

  5. Karen Pearson

    Are the over the counter one, ones that can be adjusted to selectively amplify only those pitches that you need, or something that just amplifies sound non selectively, so that if you are missing just some pitches (for example, some of the upper range) then it will amplify those pitches only without amplifying all. That way, you hear everything without being blasted by some sounds in order to hear others. Simple amplifiers are not tolerated well by most people, since it makes some sounds too loud for comfort.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That would definitely be my case.

      With Meniere’s, I’m functionally deaf in my right ear. I hear things, just not in a useful way. I hear human speech as static, sort of like the sound of a needle scratching a record. It’s largely unintelligible, and often irritating. The last thing I need is to AMPLIFY that noise.

      There’s a certain kind of hearing aid system called BiCROS, which takes sound on the side of the bad ear and sends it (via Bluetooth, I think) to a receiver in the GOOD ear. I’ve been told that might help with my problem.

      I suspect, but have not fully confirmed, that that would be more expensive than a conventional hearing aid…

  6. bud

    I’ve learned that there’s no way I can make you see what I see, so let’s just not even go down that rathole….
    – Brad

    That is Brad explaining to Doug why he sees Trump as something far more abhorrent than Doug ever will. That could apply to a number of issues. Specific to this point is Biden’s rather listless campaign. Brad sees Biden’s limited amount of policy proposals as a positive. I see it as a formula for disaster. What will Biden do as president? Brad sees that as a feature. I find it a flaw. We can only go on his past history. His vote for the Iraq war and to my knowledge his failure to apologize for it gives many of us a great deal of concern. Biden needs to lay out his vision for a foreign policy. Unless he sets a goal of full withdrawal of American troops in the ME then he cannot be considered in the Dem primary.

  7. bud

    I view this a bit differently. Warren and Sanders are describing priorities more than promises. They know many if not most of their ideas can never be passed. Yet it sets the tone of their presidency in the same way as Ronald Reagan and his military buildup and Trump’s wall. If you don’t lay out a vision of where you want to lead the country then how can I support you? I find Elizabeth Warren’s approach refreshing. She has a plan and a way to pay for it. Perhaps she could get Canada to pay for her free college plan. Hey it worked for Trump and the Mexicans paying for his wall. 🙂

    1. Doug Ross

      She has a million plans, none of them actually based in reality. Let’s not forget all the promises Obama made and then delivered a dud called Obamacare which was a mess of poor implementation and survived only on a 5-4 Supreme Court vote.

      Warren is an academic with no real world experience. She can just invent plans out of thin air but has no track record for actually doing anything tangible. If she is elected, it will be a one term disaster.

      1. Mark Stewart

        The ACA remains the best program the government has initiated in a decade or more. Whay are you still hating on something that opened up the possibility of creating a more “rational” multi-party healthcare system ? It’s been a boon to many, for many reasons.

        1. Doug Ross

          So healthcare is affordable now? Less complex to deal with insurance companies? Nobody is facing crippling bills or outrageous deductibles? The implementation was a disaster, the benefits were oversold (you can keep your doctor), and as far as I can tell it has done nothing to address the profit motive of insurance and pharma companies.
          It put a lot of people onto Medicaid and removed the restriction on denying insurance. That was it. Any trip to the hospital remains a nightmare for most people.

          It’s so great, nearly every candidate on both sides want to replace it completely. That doesn’t happen with great legislation.

          1. Mark Stewart

            No they don’t. They say that for the optics of the politics of it. What would be great is if they could find a way to work together to improve it. Since that’s as farsical as your evaluation, my point stands that the ACA was a major political accomplishment – esp given the timing.

            1. Doug Ross

              We will see Medicare for All in the next decade. Obamacare will be a distant memory. What could possibly done to improve Obamacare that would not require private insurance companies and big pharma to drastically alter their business models? It’s got to be an all-or-nothing solution… either we go full on Medicare for All or we just keep tweaking, revising, and never really actually improving the healthcare system. As long as profit is in the equation, it will never meet the needs of all Americans.

              1. Doug Ross

                And that doesn’t mean I think Medicare for All will be great… it will provide an average experience for everyone and those with the means will find ways to get better healthcare. Certain non-life-threatening procedures will have longer queues for treatment…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  It’s pretty good, Medicare is. I mean, there are no hearing aids, but if you suddenly have a problem that puts you in the hospital, you’ll find it’s pretty great.

                  It’s better than any coverage I’ve had in the last couple of decades, anyway.

                  Of course, nothing is as good as what we had back in the ’70s. Back in my first job out of college, it was awesome, and hardly cost a thing. Which was good, since I started at $130 a week.

                  Our first child was born a little over a year after I started that job (by then, I was making close to $160 a week!). At the back of my mind at the time, I worried what in the world we were going to do when the hospital bill came.

                  I’m not sure, but I think it was less than $100.

                  Those were the days…

                2. Doug Ross

                  Well, now Bernie is apparently backtracking on Medicare for All by including a new provision that allows union workers who LIKE THEIR HEALTHCARE AND WANT TO KEEP THEIR HEALTHCARE (where have we heard that before) to negotiate with the NLRB to maintain their Cadillac plans.

                  Shocking, isn’t it, that a Democrat would pander to unions to win votes in swing states in the Rust Belt.

                  Unions are just as self-interested as any other group. They are like the NRA in their desire to protect their “rights”.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      “They know many if not most of their ideas can never be passed.”

      No, I don’t think either of them is that sensible or pragmatic. They are both EXTREMELY INDIGNANT that the things they want haven’t passed ALREADY, and they blame various bad guys for that.

      That’s why they both seem ticked off so much of the time.


      Bernie isn’t at all worried about being able to pay for his proposals:

  8. Norm Ivey

    I’ve never put much stock in specific promises like that. They strike me more as metaphors for the direction the candidate would like to take the country. When we finally get Medicare for All in this country, everyone will know someone that benefits, so it’s kind of hard to separate that from selfishness, I guess.

  9. Harry Harris

    I think it’s a mistake to characterize actions and policies designed to benefit the nation as goodies for any person who might benefit directly. I’m afraid the “Me , Me,” tone of our politics since the 1980’s has permeated too much of our thinking. Justice system and prison system reform doesn’t just benefit the dope user or small dealer who got 99 years for lawyer incompetence or judicial pique, but it also relieves an overcrowded, expensive, and overused criminal justice system from strain and failure. Nutrition assistance like SNAP doesn’t only benefit the recipients of the aid. The big beneficiaries are the grocery and food industries and the economy in general. Food Stamp recipients don’t end up with money in their pockets; the stockholders of Food Lion do.
    I’ve got a considerable list of items I would like for the next President to do for me.

    Take a little more of my favorably-taxed money (rent, dividends, capital gains) to reduce the deficit.
    Fix important parts of our infrastructure before more folks are killed, poisoned, or without electricity.
    Find constitutionally valid ways of reducing gun violence.
    Get homeless people into safe housing and off the street.
    Curtail housing inflation by encouraging smart building and stopping corporate housing grabs.
    Expose and control college overspending and tuition increases.
    Improve working conditions for teachers.

    Is it apparent how this short list of things that directly benefit other people would also be something done for me? I hope our Meism hasn’t grown to where it prevents us from seeing such benefits.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Absolutely, Harry! Sell good ideas on that basis.

      For instance, contrary to what too many believe, we don’t have public schools for the sake of the kids, or their parents. We have them for the rest of us, so we can live in a society of gainfully employed people who contribute constructively to a complex modern economy. We have it so our doctors, lawyers, mechanics, clerks, HVAC installers and so forth can not only do their jobs, but can read and write and understand something about the world in which they live (so that, among other things, they don’t vote for Donald Trump for president).

      Too many don’t get that, so they come up with bizarre notions such as “I don’t have kids in the schools; why should I pay taxes to support public education?”

      To hit on one of my greatest hits, they think of themselves as consumers rather than citizens

      1. Doug Ross

        “so that, among other things, they don’t vote for Donald Trump for president).”

        The majority of voters in SC who put Lindsey Graham in office voted for Trump. I guess the schools failed in both cases.

  10. Mr. Smith

    “all I hear Joe Biden promising is to save our country from Trumpism”

    Apparently you missed him promise to cure cancer if elected.

    Or make all DREAMERS legal – which he wouldn’t have the power to do.

    And so on.

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