IT WOULD BE great to believe it was the pledge that did in Cameron Runyan.
But of course that’s unlikely; the one-term at-large Columbia City Council member stacked the deck badly enough against himself that most voters had already written him off long before he became the first Columbia council candidate ever to sign the blood oath to a creepy Washington puppet master to never, ever, so help him God, vote to raise any tax. Ever. No matter what.
What is clear, though, is that signing the pledge, and making it a centerpiece of his floundering campaign, did not save him from colossal defeat on Tuesday.
And that’s the point of the pledge, after all: to win votes. Or at least that’s the point to the candidates who sign it.
To Grover Norquist, the point is to create a nation, and states, and local governments led by people who will vote to shrink government in half and then shrink it in half again and again and again so that in 25 years, “we can get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Seriously. When he met with our editorial board several years back, he brought along a magazine article with that quote highlighted. It wasn’t hyperbole, he made clear, and he was so proud of it.
Candidates in South Carolina insist that they sign the no-taxes pledge to local anti-tax crusader Don Weaver, who sent out a letter on Mr. Runyan’s behalf touting his pledge. But Mr. Weaver is simply Mr. Norquist’s S.C. bagman.
The problem with the pledge isn’t really Mr. Norquist, although that’s what makes it creepy. The problem isn’t that it puts candidates on record as opposing tax increases; goodness knows we could use people on the Columbia City Council who don’t see a tax increase as the answer to every question.
The problem with signing a pledge to never, ever do something is that it locks people in. Forever. It says that regardless of what happens, one option will never be on the table. Regardless of what happens, the pledge signers will not … think.
It would be just as bad to pledge to never, ever cut taxes, no matter what the circumstances. But of course no one would ever propose, much less sign, such a pledge.
The pledge signers promise that they will never consider the circumstances before making a decision. They will make their decisions before we even elect them, based not on what our community or state or nation needs, but on what they happened to think our community or state or nation needed at the moment that they believed it was in their political interest to sign a pledge.
I have no illusions that Mr. Runyan’s post-pledge shellacking portends an end to pledge-mania. There remains among politicians this impulse to sign pledges, to demonstrate commitment and sincerity — or perhaps to make up for what voters see as a lack of commitment and sincerity.
But if candidates feel compelled to sign pledges, shouldn’t we come up with some pledges that demonstrate that sincerity and commitment without abdicating the responsibilities we entrust to our elected officials?
How about a pledge to base your decisions on the actual circumstances, not preconceived notions? That is, to be pragmatic.
How about a pledge to support the best solution to every problem, regardless of whose idea it is? That is, to never oppose a proposal just because it was made by someone in the other party, or faction?
How about pledging to never support an idea just because it was made by someone in your own political party, or faction?
How about pledging to never vote for or against a proposal until you understand it?
How about a pledge to remember that it’s better to get 90 percent of what you want — or even 80 percent, or 60 percent — than nothing?
How about pledging that when you’re in the minority on an issue, you will work in good faith to make the outcome less bad rather than trying to delay it to death? That, by the way, is the yin of the 90 percent yang.
How about a pledge to not mislead voters into thinking that you can do things you do not have the authority to do? That means local officials wouldn’t make promises on the campaign trail or proposals in office to do what only the Legislature can do. It means legislators and legislative candidates wouldn’t make promises or propose bills to do things that only the Congress can do — or that the Constitution prohibits anyone from doing. Ditto governors.
How about even telling voters you can’t do things they ask you to do, rather than nodding in agreement — which allows them to believe you have that authority and creates unrealistic expectations that will come back to haunt you anyway?
Those are pledges that would improve our republic — and our communities. And isn’t that what elected officials are supposed to do?
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.