Evergreen Campaign Promises that are Always Broken

Some Conservatives are miffed that Trump is apparently not going to move the US Embassy in Israel to Tel Aviv

In March 2016, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Donald Trump said that, as president, he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump called that city “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

Now, however, President Trump has decided to keep our embassy in Tel Aviv. A senior White House official explained: “We don’t think it would be wise to [move] it at this time” because “we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”

This promise to move the US Embassy in Israel is evergreen, and is always broken.  A similar promise by candidates such as Barack Obama to declare the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians to be genocide is another promise of symbolic action that is never actually implemented in office.  These mostly symbolic gestures are really powerful in campaigns, because they will tend to energize certain groups and make them more likely to vote for you.  But it turns out that each of these actions would tend to tick off unpredictable, scary, violent parties, the negative consequences of which might well outweigh the benefits of the gesture.  Even ignoring violence and irrationality, these actions impose an opportunity cost, likely limiting progress on other diplomatic fronts with these same parties.

This is why the vast majority of actual government actions reside in the lower left square in the framework below -- don't believe me?  Look at the legislative output from any particular session of Congress.  The vast majority of the actions taken are to declare some special day, a low-cost symbolic action meant to make some group feel warm towards some politician.



  1. mlhouse:

    While I think that Israel obviously has some claim over the city, the move Trump is making is rather prudent.

    With his trip to the Middle East, Trump is suggesting the formation of a security framework that could be perhaps the biggest breakthrough for peace in the region since 1948. Moving the US embassy would just scuttle that process.

  2. Richard Harrington:

    Don't forget the milker bills, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-milker-bill.htm, where the very threat of legislation is used to get "results", whether or not the bill actually passes.

    I don't know if the Bill Clinton-era health care attempt had this as a goal, but the result was definitely an increase health care industry lobbying.

    Microsoft wasn't very political until the various anti-trust attempts happened.

  3. kidmugsy:

    "perhaps the biggest breakthrough for peace in the region since ...": there will be no peace in the region. Nothing that the US can do in practice is remotely likely to bring about peace in the region.

  4. Mercury:

    It's probably more fair to label the right column as "High Risk/Reward" instead of "High Cost". The specific (and many other such) examples you list could go either way or end up with more overall benefit than cost.