A proliferation of candidate pledges – what’s the point?by Mark B. Evans on Nov. 15, 2012, under Uncategorized
A plague of pledges
By Mark B. Evans
Among all the ridiculous things voters had to endure during the recent campaign season were all the shrill ads about how some candidate signed or refused to sign some self-important group’s “pledge.”
The pledge of all pledges is of course the anti-tax pledge of the Americans For Tax Reform, headed by the liberal bugbear Grover Norquist.
Norquist, created the pledge back in 1986 when the only pledge candidates had to take was the Pledge of Allegiance. In the 26 years since, the pledge has been enormously successful boxing in Republicans when it comes to budget balancing, whether federal or state.
Whenever budgets get out of whack, every Republican anti-tax pledgee is forced to only consider spending cuts to balance a budget lest they face the wrath of a smidgen of voters who will decide the next Republican primary.
Meaning, if you’re a Republican it’s hard to get elected if you don’t sign the pledge and hard to stay elected if you violate the pledge and vote for a tax.
The inability of Arizona to effectively balance its budget in 2009 and 2010 is a perfect example. Since tax increases were off the table, the Republican-controlled Legislature had to resort to borrowing money and cutting critical state agencies to the bone rather than soften the blow with a modest tax increase and modest spending cuts.
The success of the ATR tax pledge has caused a proliferation of pledges over the years, many of them ridiculous and useless.
Most are conservative pledges that are part of the party Puritanism trend that is purging all but the most conservative of conservatives from the Republican Party. The GOP is now chockablock with oath takers and oath keepers of all kinds, each with their own idea of what it means to be a “real” Republican based on whether someone has signed a particular pledge.
Besides taxes, other pledges candidates are asked to sign require support or opposition to abortion, global warming, gay rights, balanced budgets, open government, school funding, student loans, lobbying, open government, health care reform/repeal and farm subsidies.
All of the groups promoting their pledges are hoping to have the same success as Norquist but there are so many now that many candidates can get away with not signing some of them. Even a few Republicans have managed to avoid signing Norquist’s pledge and won election, albeit in mostly moderate districts or states (or try to hide that they signed the pledge, such as Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass).
An argument can be made that these pledges help voters determine whether a candidate is someone they should vote for. But that merely caters to litmus-test voting in which one or two issues are the deciding factor for a voter.
Abortion is the biggest litmus test. There are millions of poor and middle class Americans who are better off supporting Democrats but who despise the Democratic Party because of its support for abortion rights.
It matters not to them that Republican fiscal policy is harmful to them; all that matters is that their candidate is against abortion.
That’s a silly way to decide who, on balance, is the better candidate when there are many issues equally as important, if not more important than that single issue.
A better way than pledges is for voters to consider the voting ranks and grades most groups put out. The National Rifle Association, for instance, grades all state and elected officials on their adherence to the NRA’s gun rights principles. Those grades help advocacy groups determine which candidates they should back and also help voters figure out whether a candidate is always, mostly, sometimes or never in support of issues they support.
Pledges back candidates into corners and prevent the compromise that is vital for governance in a nation in which there are many issues, many points of views and many voters with different ideas about how they should be governed.
We’re better off having elected officials who are flexible and can address issues based on the circumstances of the moment and not some rigid, inflexible oath keeper frightened of losing the next election because they crossed some arbitrary line.
Perhaps the best pledge a candidate for office can make is to pledge not to sign any pledges.
Pledges are just politics, so what else is new?
By Emil Franzi,
Southern Arizona News-Examiner
There are two basic ways for elected public officials to represent their constituencies. One is known as the Burkean view, named after the great English statesman Edmund Burke. It maintains that you should choose a representative the way you choose others to handle matters that cannot done by yourself such as lawyers and doctors. You allow those representatives to use their best judgment and replace them periodically when they don’t.
The contrary view is a more Puritan one that trusts mankind little and believes that representatives should do what their constituents want. Both views were prevalent in early America depending on the cultural background of the different colonies.
The Burkean view works when the constituencies are small and reasonably well educated, as they were in his day. But from the beginning the other view was present. In extreme cases, representatives abstained from an issue on which they had no instructions from those who chose them
Today’s debate is a replay of that early dichotomy. One prime example is the “no new taxes” pledge gathered by limited government advocate Grover Norquist. Some think Norquist’s solicitations of signed pledges from both federal and state office holders is somehow a subversion of democracy. It’s not. What it does is clarify what those holding or seeking office will do if elected.
Norquist is far from being alone. Every interest group in America from noble to sleazy, from the Aardvark Protective League to the Society for the Promotion of Zithers wants to know where their senators and representatives stand on their often very narrow issues. Candidates and office-holders face these groups and their often lengthy questionnaires with everything from hostility to dread. There are things that will lose them votes they don’t want to go on record about that they are ofen perfectly willing to make private commitments over, sometimes to both sides. In asking them to publicly go on record, the Norquists and those Zither folks do voters a favor in allowing them to know where candidates stand.
Incumbents have voting records, but these can be tricky as there are often omnibus bills with pages about helping widows and orphans and a small paragraph that allows torture of cats that justify a no vote. And legislative leaders trying to hold onto a majority and their roles often either allow those with marginal constituencies to take a dive on a controversial bill or else stifle any votes at all. (See REID, HARRY)
Moving a proposal from one state to another which has some with wadded panties is as old as the Republic. The Left has done it for years but whines when conservative groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) produces model legislation. ALEC itself is modeled on earlier Progressive operations.
In 1798. a Federalist Congress passed the forever infamous Alien and Sedition Laws. Jefferson and Madison drafted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response. This was a centralized effort to overturn a bad federal law by action in multiple states. Those who rant about Grover Norquist and others with a similar methodology, left or right, might look back at two of our greatest founders and answer the question “so what’s new?”