Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pledges can be problematic

Candidates are bombarded with questionnaires during a campaign. Every interest group sends its package of questions in order to determine if the candidate will receive its endorsement.

Okay. Fair enough.

Do I support the Second Amendment? Yes.

Do I support clean air? Yes.

Do I support taxing people on the miles they drive? No.

Do I support open and transparent government? Yes.

These are a few questions I've fielded this year. I dutifully answer the questionnaires and assume that my responses will be on the Internet at some point.

It's when these groups go beyond sending a survey, and ask instead that you to sign a pledge, that I get a little like the bandito in Blazing Saddles who said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "We don't need no stinkin' pledges."

The problem with pledges is that you're taking an option off the table before you ever get to the table. It was illustrated quite well during the Republican primaries when everyone on the stage raised their hands to the question: "Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you'd walk away on the ten [dollars of spending cuts] to one [dollar of tax increases] deal?"

To balance the federal budget, shouldn't we consider such a deal? The reality, of course, is that there is no proposal to do this and Congress is not likely to ever produce a budget that does this. To turn this improbability into an impossibility, the candidates all affirmed that there would be no such option on the table by pledging not to increase taxes, no matter what.

How did that work out for George H. W. Bush? He hamstrung himself by taking a self-imposed pledge: "Read my lips. No new taxes." When he got to the table, he went back on that pledge. He was summarily dismissed from his job in 1992, having lost 20 points of his support base to Ross Perot (some would argue about the exact number), and was replaced by Bill Clinton. who raised taxes even more.

On a state level, we have Citizens for Limited Taxation, a great group of people led by Barbara Anderson that requires a signed "no new taxes" pledge in return for a possible campaign contribution. We have another group, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, requesting signed pledges to make government transparent. I'm certainly in both of those camps, philosophically, but I would rather that they look at my voting record and professional background in making their assessments of who to endorse.

So let this be my formal announcement, a pledge if you will, that I won't be signing any pledges this year.


  1. I don't need a pledge. I do need someone who will work for me, the lowly voter. I would like to see him tell Mr. Patrick that he needs to spend a bit more money on schools and a lot less on beggers. I want someone to represent me not to tell me "Oh well, we just need to ask you to bleed a bit more".


  2. But you did sign Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Relief pledge didn't you?


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