‘Pledge Politics’ for the New Year, 2014, and 2016
Early Christmas shopping has become institutionalized, but I don’t see people making earlier professions of New Year’s resolutions. Politicians should lead on this.
New Hampshire Democrats (and Jon Huntsman) dismissed “pledge politics” this past cycle. If politicians necessarily campaign in poetry and govern in prose, pledges or promises can at least push them to campaign in truth and govern with accountability.
Jackie Cilley arguably mobilized the no-more-pledge-politics (non)sensibility in the state income tax context during her Democratic gubernatorial primary with Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan with greater vigor than the no-tax activists advocated for the general election ballot-initiative constitutional amendment to ban the tax. Reasons remain for political candidates to take pledges or to make their own.
2014, as a midterm election with likely less enthusiasm, will benefit from any voter education effort. Taking a pledge is newsy and easy to understand. Consider the Coalition to Reduce Spending’s “Reject the Debt” candidate and voter pledges at reducespending.org.
2016 is the next opportunity for New Hampshire to earn its First in the Nation primary status. Non-NH politicos know Dixville Notch and pine for traditions and Americana optics. Tom Thomson’s “Ax the Tax” pledge, complete with six-foot red ax, is quintessential Granite State and a ready-make perky press conference.
Recalling the Des Moines Register’s spat with the Obama campaign about an off-the-record interview, newspapers might proactively issue pledge challenges on their editorial pages; lesser-known, lesser-funded candidates could make a name for themselves by giving their word. The Nashua Telegraph at least videotapes, and makes available to the public, its editorial board meetings with candidates.
Prospective GOP 2016ers especially should take advantage of Grover Norquist’s bad weekend. While some Republicans walked away from past pledges on Sunday talk shows, any presidential aspirant who comes to New Hampshire and automatically makes news will semi-automatically earn an “Up” in James Pindell’s weekly Political Standing by saying something smart while here. A Republican who can simultaneously answer Bobby Jindal’s recent call to “stop saying stupid things” and unflinchingly accept Americans for Tax Reform will win the New Hampshire primary, the nomination, and the White House. Find the fountain of truth by following a map of pledges that can be explained succinctly and sustained with good public policy.
Are there arguments for representative democracy other than apathy and efficiency? Apathy as in people are more like Nancy Pelosi than Grant Bosse in their willingness to read proposed legislation. Efficiency as in every-issue direct democracy is technologically unfeasible. Even “accountability” has been more germane to electing representatives with some frequency than relevant as a factor for having representatives in the first place. However, technology – in tandem with pledges – can keep citizens informed and transform elected officials into electors. “Pledge politics” is more populist than Democrats imagine. “Proxy” politics is consistent with rule of the many.
Elite liberals espouse “nuance”; conservatives, absolutist binary natural law. Linguist George Lakoff may have already explored whether philosophical, psychological predispositions make pledges relatively more comfortable for Republicans. The Left offers oaths too. And NARAL Pro-Choice absolutely would not treat their candidates as free to evolve on the reproductive freedom issue.
Invoking Clint Eastwood now makes for rhetoric emptier than Curious Harry’s RNC2012 chair, but George H.W. Bush’s “Read my lips: no…new…taxes” holds up as a standard. That convention speech line was enforced four years later both by a presidential primary challenger and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.
Talk is cheap. Taking a pledge is free, but it’s invaluable for its no-spin nonpartisanship.
Alex Talcott, Durham NH, is the public affairs principal of Vaura Consulting LLC and an instructor at Newbury College and Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School.