10 Major Campaign Promises That Never Happened

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The foundation of representative democracy is the campaign promises made by the political candidates. Campaign promises are often prepared in the passion of the moment. They’re more like marketing strategies, designed for achieving constructive and positive media coverage. But, once in office, presidents frequently find that reality often doesn’t fit the promise.

The crux of a campaign promise is; candidates make promises to hint to voters their goals and targets in office and voters assess candidates based on those promises. Promises made in the development of any presidential candidate’s campaign should really be termed as proposals.

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1. Woodrow Wilson

Promise: “He kept us out of war.”

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, was a front-runner of the Progressive Movement (1913-1921). Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the motto: “He kept us out of war”. During the elections, he pledged for a strategy of a neutral stance at the outbreak of World War I, but once in office, Wilson led America into war in order to “make the world safe for democracy.”

Woodrow Wilson is remembered as a believer in democracy, liberalism and world peace. Wilson left behind a multifarious legacy that included re-segregating many branches of the federal workforce. He tried hard to keep the United States impartial during World War I but eventually called on Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917. After the war, he assisted in negotiating a peace treaty that comprised a plan for the League of Nations.

Even though the Senate precluded U.S. membership in the League, Wilson received the Nobel Prize for his peacemaking determinations.

Yoichi Okamoto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Lyndon B. Johnson

Promise: “A Great Society.”

Lyndon B. Johnson was picked Vice President as John F. Kennedy’s running mate, in the campaign of 1960. Later, Johnson was under oath as the 36th United States President, on November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was tragically assassinated. He came with a vision and campaign promise to build “A Great Society” for the people of America.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign promise of making America a great society and not sending American boys 10-thousand miles away from home was something he could not keep his word on. As such, during his presidency, the U.S. entered the Vietnam War. For a President who promised to change American society, it ended with the country being eventually scarred by the Vietnam War.

By 1968, the United States had 548,000 troops in Vietnam and had by now lost almost 30,000 American lives.

Ollie Atkins, White House photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Richard Nixon

Promise: “Silent Majority.”

Richard Nixon was under oath as the 37th United States President (1969-1974), after formerly serving as a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator from California. He came up with an idea and aim to end American fighting in Vietnam and improve international relations with the U.S.S.R. and China, but American troops were not withdrawn until 1973 — a little more than a year before Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Nixon’s campaign promise was to make peace with integrity in Vietnam. But, U.S. conflict fatalities enlarged over Nixon’s first six months in the office. The war hauled on, flat after Nixon’s re-election in 1972. The last Americans were not withdrawn until the year 1975, after Nixon resigned from the office in disgrace, leaving communist North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam.

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4. Jimmy Carter

Promise: “Disentangling the Energy Crunch.”

Jimmy Carter served as the 39th President of the United States from the year 1977 to 1981. Being presented with the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to find peaceful resolutions to international conflicts, to spread democracy and encourage human rights, and to stimulate economic and social expansion.

Jimmy Carter’s campaign promise on solving the energy crunch to add solar panels to the roof of the White House wasn’t considered viable and so he was not able to keep his promise. Additionally, he was not able to collect the right support for the gas tax, and at that time the energy problem only increased and got out of hand during his tenure as the president.

White House Photographic Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Ronald Reagan

Promise: “Restoration of the Nation’s Military Strength.”

Ronald Reagan took an oath as the 40th President of the United States serving from the year 1981 to 1989. Reagan was originally an American actor before turning his attention to politics and eventually becoming the governor of California and then the 40th President of the United States.

In his tenure, he restored affluence at home, with an aim to achieve “peace through strength” abroad. Ronald Reagan’s campaign promise was to make a constitutional modification permitting school prayer during his campaign, and even though he recommended and suggested the amendment in 1982, the amendment never took place.

During his two terms, he increased defense spending by 35 percent, whilst professing his desire to mend relations with the Soviet Union. Instead, Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after proof came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub.

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6. George H. W. Bush

Promise: “Read my lips: No new taxes.”

George H. W. Bush served as the 41st President of the United States from 1989 – 1993. He took office with an aim and commitment to bring back the traditional American principles and came in with the willpower to direct his goals on the way to making the United States “a kinder and gentler nation” in the face of an intensely fluctuating world.

In his campaign promise at the 1988 Republican Convention in New Orleans, then-Vice President George Bush addressed the crowd: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Later, during his time in office, his administration was afflicted by a persistent recession whereby the federal discrepancy increased.

Subsequently, after months of hard work and trying to make a deal with Congress for steep spending cuts, on June 27, 1990, he had to admit that an increase in tax revenue was sorely needed.

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7. Bill Clinton

Promise: “Provide Universal Health Care to All Americans.”

Bill Clinton was the first baby-boomer generation President and served from 1993 – 2001. A savvy American politician from Arkansas, he took the Presidential office at the end of the Cold War. Clinton, in his campaign, promised a makeover of the health care structure before he took office in 1993. Even though he struggled for the health care reform, called “Hillarycare” — it ended in failure.

He worked towards making health care reform the first priority in his first term but found himself up against fundamentalists and a big-spending public relations campaign by the health care industry. Clinton even tried to assign the First Lady Hillary Clinton to be in control of the task force, which also failed.

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8. George W. Bush

Promise: “Change the Tone.”

George W. Bush served as the 43rd President of the United States from 2001 to 2009. He was shaped into a wartime President due to the devastating terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. George W. Bush is known to face the “greatest challenge of any President since Abraham Lincoln.”

George W. Bush’s campaign promise was to “change the tone” in D.C., denationalize social security and lessen government expenditure but none of his proposals succeeded in his time. More importantly, he wanted to extend American troops all around the world in nation-building missions.

Instead of reducing government spending, the government spending skyrocketed – due to new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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9. Barack Obama

Promise: “Close the Partisan Divide in Washington.”

Barack Obama took an oath as the 44th President of the United States in January 2009. With an ideal of American values, he came from a strong middle-class family. His values growing up were hard work and quality education as the means of getting ahead in life and doing something for the nation.

Obama’s campaign promise was to work to “close the partisan divide in Washington.” For a variety of reasons, Washington’s partisan divide was much bigger when Obama left office in 2017 than when he entered in 2009. And now in 2021, partisanship has increased to such a level that it could be argued that there are now two Republican parties.

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10. Donald Trump

Promise: “Build a Wall with the Border of Mexico.”

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States commenced with his appointment on January 20, 2017, and ended on January 20, 2021. Trump was loud about several promises like have Hillary Clinton imprisoned, rescinding Obamacare and making Mexico pay for building an end-to-end wall at the border. But none of these took place during his tenure.

Among all these promises the most provocative promise and the proposal made was to build the aforementioned wall end to end the US-Mexican border. Mexico poured ridicule on the statement that it would pay for such an obstruction, with former Mexican president Vicente Fox taking to Twitter with an expletive-laden attack on the former US President.

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