|Indeed, no matter how
certain a politician may be about taxes, wars, health care and the myriad problems
that confront us, it serves no useful purpose to be painted into a corner by
making a "pledge." Said Huntsman: "I
have a pledge to my wife, and I pledge allegiance to my country, but beyond that,
Michele Bachmann, for instance, quickly found herself cornered by a pledge
she made last month in South Carolina that as president she'd guarantee that
gasoline prices drop to $2 per gallon. As her challengers noted, factors affecting
gas prices are too numerous for any such pledge to be taken seriously.
Just a few weeks ago, Rick Perry signed a pledge against gay marriage. In
adding his name to the document authored by the National Organization for Marriage,
Perry backtracked on his earlier pledge that he would leave the definition of
marriage up to the states.
Ronald Reagan, the oft-sighted model of conservative governing, raised taxes
11 times during his presidency because it was the right thing for the nation.
Yet, all the contenders, except Huntsman, have signed Grover Norquist's Taxpayer
Protection Pledge - the emphatic document, that bears the signatures of 270 Republicans
in Congress, rigidly opposing tax hikes regardless of nature or need.
Huntsman's refusal to pledge makes good sense. "I think it diminishes
the political discussion," he explains. "I think it jeopardizes your
ability to lead once you get there."
The tax pledge led to a ludicrous exchange during last month's debate in Iowa
in which Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty squabbled over a sliver of Minnesota tax history
back in 2005, when he was governor and she was in the legislature. The measure
in question had nothing to do with income taxes; it involved raising the tax
on cigarettes. Yet there was Pawlenty, six years later, insisting that the cigarette
hike was actually a "fee" rather than a "tax," which he nevertheless "regretted."
Democrats have their own pledges, such as the Social Security Protectors Pledge,
which compels signatories to "oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits,
including increasing the retirement age." Most House Democrats have signed.
It's one thing to take an unequivocal position on certain moral questions
like the death penalty, but to apply the same absolutism to ever-changing economic
and political issues is simply an abnegation of duty. One assumes that the public
wants leaders who can think for themselves and, when necessary, actually modify
The late Tim Russert of NBC News was fond of asking candidates for high office
to take pledges on all sorts of issues. In September 2007, Russert asked Barack
Obama if he would "pledge" to remove all troops from Iraq by the end
of his first term. The question, in its absoluteness, was unreasonable, and Obama
After offering that same pledge to other Democrats on stage, Russert asked
Hillary Clinton: "Would you pledge to the American people that Iran will
not develop a nuclear bomb while you are president?" She, too, declined
to be bound by such a pledge - especially one that would forever be preserved
on videotape in NBC's archives. Russert was a fine journalist, but his obsession
with "pledges" marred his interviews.
Now, pledges have become more than devices employed by TV hosts -- they are
increasingly the currency of political positioning. That's unfortunate, because
at a time when Republicans and Democrats seem unable to agree on anything, pledges
only make the situation more hopeless.
Taking a pledge is the political equivalent of holding one's breath and turning
blue -- or, as the case may be, red.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.