I am delighted that my Post colleague Michael Gerson has joined Right Turn’s battle against pledges. Michael observes: “Particularly among conservative activists, the desire to bind politicians is often the evidence of disdain for politicians. Only a signed, airtight contract will keep a future president from ideological betrayal.”
Pledges also implicitly show disdain for voters. The voters apparently can’t be trusted to discern for themselves whether Mitt Romney is pro-life or if Tim Pawlenty is against gay marriage. So the special-interest group interposes itself between the candidate and the voters. The pledge masters determine for themselves, not by examination of the candidates’ records or public statements but by the pols’ willingness to capitulate to the pledge drafters, what is what. Considering that we are in the midst of an historic conservative grass-roots effort in which the citizenry has declared itself quite capable, thank you, of self-governance, this is more than a little strange.
Fairly soon, the plethora of pledges reduces them all to white noise. If Pawlenty signs the right-to-life pledge of one group but not the other, what does it mean? And if the candidate has legitimate objections to the language of a pledge, does that make him or her anti-whatever?
Pledges are today’s version of political endorsements, the importance of which is decreasing. A political endorsement is supposed to convince voters that if you like Famous Endorser, you will love the less-well-known Endorsee. However, these days the endorsers (the state senator from what’s-it county) tend to be less well known that the candidates. And given that politicians are in low repute anyway, the vast majority of endorsements are meaningless.
The creators of pledges likewise try to tutor the voters, not willing to let them to decide for themselves who is a phony and who is not on a given issue. And in doing so, of course, the interest groups justify their own critical role in the process.
In the era of the Tea Party, candidates should forget about endorsements and decline all pledges. If not to avoid making themselves look like puppets on a string, then they should do it out of respect for the voters. They really are smart enough to decide what the candidates’ views are. All by themselves.