As the semester comes to an end, my students are handing in papers where they had to analyze a presidential candidate (history and political platform) and determine, based on the real powers of the office, whether this candidate is making empty promises or suggesting real solutions to the nations problems.
As the students presented their papers to the class yesterday, it was obvious that at least some of them had come to realize just how complicated politics really is. Some of them were coming to the conclusion that party labels and party stereotypes aren't as cut and dried as they had always assumed (or been led to believe) that they were. Others were realizing that the president will need major cooperation from Congress to achieve many of their goals and campaign promises. And some were even coming to the conclusion that their are no easy answers to the problems that face our country. I actually felt good about being a teacher yesterday.
This morning I read an article in WaPo (Running on Sweet Nothings) that is lamenting the emptiness of campaign promises and asks why the candidates continue to lie to us and act like there are easy answers to all of our many problems. I think the answer is fairly simple. The average American believes that there are easy answers to be had and so they expect to be told that those easy answers exist and what the answers are. When someone tries to explain to them that it is a complex process, like Kerry tried to do to some extent last election cycle, they get ridiculed by their opponents for supposedly saying stupid things, like Bush did to Kerry when he tried to explain why he would vote for a bill and then against a bill in the Senate.
In short, Americans tend to be drawn to the KISS approach to most things: Keep It Simple Stupid. Keeping it simple is the best, and possibly only, way to get votes. My hope is that which ever candidate makes it to office this go-around he or she will actually realize that simple answers don't really exist, unlike the one we have in office now. I think the problem with Bush is that he actually believed (and possibly still believes) that those simple answers are out there.