A good pledge will always make your heart skip. Just listen:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Then there are the pledges that can go awry:
Read my lips: no new taxes.
To show their backbone — and ingratiate themselves with core constituencies — politicians are endlessly tempted to take the pledge. This year, it’s become a prominent feature of the early presidential campaign.
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum recently pledged to oppose pornography, women in combat and Sharia law. All are part of their signining the “Marriage Vow,” whose core commitment is that “ALL of us must work to strengthen and support families and marriages between one woman and one man.” The vow was written by the Family Leader, a conservative group in Iowa.
However, the Family Leader sabotaged their message by including inflammatory language on slavery. In the preamble to the vow, it states: “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”
Which begs the question, why would anyone—running for president or not—attach their name to such a pledge?
Many pledges are expressions of straight-forward beliefs. By committing to a cause, whether in speeches or by signing a written pledge, a politician is making a promise to their base: your issue is mine; your issue will be a priority when I am in office. After all, volunteers who are going to devote hours of their life and dollars from their wallet to support a candidate want to know that the politician is committed to the issue they care most about.
But what helps on the campaign trail is less beneficial when it comes to governing. The downside of pledges can be seen on Capitol Hill today. When hundreds of politicians make unwavering commitments to, say, never raise taxes in any form, or, say, never touch entitlement programs, debilitating gridlock clamps down on our legislative bodies. Nobody will compromise even if it benefits the country.
Robin Morris is the National Programs Manager at the National Constitution Center.