In the long and likely insufferable 20 months to come, the media will be dominated by the debates, jabs and promises of prominent politicos vying to become President of the United States. Trust none of it — go by their records instead.
The political class has a well-deserved reputation for delivering on far too little campaign promises, or purposely speaking in vague and noncommittal terms. This kind of rhetoric is a consistent presence in elections, which is why it is imperative that the voting public questions what candidates’ priorities are and scrutinize the decisions they’ve made during previous stints in positions of power.
Favoring a candidate because of their personality should be avoided. Politicians present themselves as they please in public, but that’s a performance. Flaws can be hidden when they aren’t examined. What a candidate cannot hide is their record.
Prior actions can tell us what someone has been dedicated to advocating for when not trying to gain favorability among the public. Sen. Bernie Sanders has advocated for universal healthcare and free college tuition for years, even when not running for the presidency. So when he proclaims while campaigning that he wants to make a policy like “medicare for all” happen, I’m more prone to believe him. Sanders has defined what this means to him and consistently attempted to make this a reality.
Alternatively, if Sen. Amy Klobuchar were to suddenly endorse a universal healthcare policy, I may cynically find it opportunistic. The policy is popular now, and endorsing it would certainly make one appear more favorable among certain voters. This scenario would be a change from the candidate’s past however, and the timing would be suspicious. Klobuchar has recently expressed preference for “looking at something that will work now,” implying that the “medicare for all” system is not that.
It’s certainly possible for any person to change their stances on any set of issues. I certainly have done so on numerous occasions. But it is incredibly suspicious to do this and publicly sponsor popular ideas when such an action can materially benefit that individual, and possibly not a single one of that person’s constituents.
A candidate looking for votes may say anything to appease constituents. But once they have the office they desire, they don’t necessarily have to follow through with any of that. Reelection is one incentive to do what one promised, but many politicians have been reelected even when they have not done all that they promised to voters.
Vaguely sponsoring buzzwords in public forums such as town halls and Twitter does not equal lawmaking, and beyond the ballot we as the voting public have no means of holding an official accountable. Endorsing something does not truly commit a candidate to fulfilling their promises. So, once someone is in office, they don’t necessarily have to go through with anything.
This is why the candidates’ records should be prioritized when deciding who to vote for. It’s cliché, but actions speak louder than words. Commitments are ultimately nonexistent if the words are there and the actions do not follow. Obviously policymaking is a complex process, not all proposed policy is approved. But if a candidate has not even made attempts to pass legislation they now advocate for, their campaign promises may not be genuine.
Examining candidates’ records isn’t difficult. Beyond media coverage, government websites such as congress.gov allow voters to view what legislation a particular lawmaker from the U.S. Congress has sponsored. These websites also exist for state legislatures.
Additionally, websites including GovTrack and Vote Smart also provide voting records and allow voters to sign up for notifications on a particular elected official. Campaign finance can also be found through websites such as Open Secrets, which focuses on how money influences elections and legislature. Choosing to take money from a particular party is also an action that should reflect on who a candidate prioritizes.
According to the Federal Election Commission, over 500 individuals are currently vying to become the 46th President of the United States. This number will dwindle, with the remaining candidates likely being existing public figures who have already received media coverage. Through voting records and media coverage, it should be easy to view the actions a politician has taken.
It is absolutely worth listening to rhetoric, as it can be revelatory about how a candidate thinks. We cannot read a candidate’s mind, but examining what they have done can help reveal what they truly care about.