Sign This Pledge

I’m calling on all political candidates to sign the following pledge (for the sake of their electoral careers, we will not call it the Bawdy House pledge):

I pledge not to sign any interest group pledges.

I understand the urge behind the proliferation of interest group pledges, and I understand why politicians are signing them. People are frustrated at politicians who promise to do X, and then do (at least in the public’s eyes) not-X. There’s something special about explicitly signing on to a particular pledge, as opposed to just tossing out a few words of general agreement. It has the aura of a formal contract.

But pledges are a terrible idea, and destructive to the deliberation that is crucial to democracy. First, the reality is that politicians often don’t really know what they’re getting themselves into, and when they learn how things really work they understand that the real world has more shades of gray than they had anticipated, and their black/white world view was pitifully naive. Second, a pledge is a commitment to not compromise, meaning we have politicians coming into office with an all-or-nothing attitude. Since you rarely can get all, that often means you get nothing. It’s an adolescent approach that fails to recognize that politics is the art of compromise, and policymaking is most often an incremental process. Only fools think marginal gains are worse than no gains at all. Third, it commits policymakers to representing only a small slice of their constituency, instead of trying their best to represent them all. Obviously nobody can please all their constituents all the time, and we can’t demand that politicians forgo their deep personal ideological commitments. But a pledge to one group of constituents is a thumb in they eye to other constituents–it goes beyond saying “I will do my best to promote interest X” to saying “interest X trumps all other interests no matter what.” These are folks who think the rest of Americans have no right to be heard or represented.

This is why I respect John Huntsman for refusing to sign the anti-same-sex marriage pledge even though he personally is opposed to same-sex marriage. In fact he has explicitly refused to sign any pledges. Noticeably, he also has failed to make any headway at all with likely Republican primary voters.

And this is why I despise the 6 Republicans on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the Supercommittee). Having signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to never increase any taxes in any way whatsoever (including not eliminating tax subsidies that skew the market), they are now in the position of having to either break their signed commitment or completely fail to get any serious deficit reduction at all–not because it’s not technically possible to reduce the deficit solely through spending cuts, but because a) they’re also not willing to cut the largest discretionary spending program, the military; and b) they actually have to compromise with Democrats if they’re going to accomplish anything at all. The only good thing Boehner has done as Speaker of the House is to call Norquist “some random person.” Exactly right, but Speaker Boehner lacks enough influence in his own party to slow down the near unanimous genuflecting each time Norquist’s name is mentioned.

So here’s one final pledge. Let it be the last one.

I pledge not to sign any interest group pledges.

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*Oh, if only it could have been a “no new Texans” pledge, and he could really have enforced it.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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One Response to Sign This Pledge

  1. Lance says:

    i was going to ask you to sign a pledge to refrain from asking people to sign pledges against taking pledges.

    But then I remembered that I had taken a pledge to not ask people to take a pledge against asking other people not to take pledges.

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