Thursday, May 13, 2010

On The Efficacy of Political Pledges

Our last posting on the ‘No Tax Pledge’ brought forth a fair number of comments, both pro and con, which is a good thing.

If you ever read anything in Telemachus that you just think is plain crazy and wrong, let us know….we love a good debate and argument.

Just don’t get too personal or use a lot of bad words, we have heard them all. In fact, one night when I was working in the House of Representatives as Congress was considering something like gun legislation, a woman called the office from North Carolina and proceeded to let me have it with both barrels for the way the congressman was voting on the issue.

I started laughing and she got offended and demanded to know what I was laughing for or at. I said: “Lady, I have been called all sorts of bad and nasty names in this job and thought I had heard every cuss word there was to hear but you just called me 4 things I have never even heard of before!”

But back to the ‘pledge’ issue. It occurs to us in the wake of close to the past 10 years of fiscal insanity in Washington that the very essence of a pledge has been, once again, subverted by the very politicians who seek to use them as a sign of their ‘virtue and truth’. They want you, the American voter, to think they are standing for ‘truth, justice and the American Way!’ whenever they sign a pledge to ‘Not Raise Your Taxes!’ or ‘Not Touch Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits So They Will Always Stay Just The Way They Are Today…(even if we go into triple bankruptcy as a nation as a result).

We have been deceived by some of the greatest flim-flam artists in history, ladies and gentlemen. The pledges every politician have been signing for the past 30 years have been for no other purpose than to give them a convenient excuse to not do anything about any important issue we face! None of them!

Here are the great issues that have been unresolved for the past 30 years: continuous budget deficits, ever-increasing national debt and unreformed entitlement programs. Just like Greece come to think of it.

Let’s think more deeply about it. When a congressman says with deep and solemn voice: “I will NEVER, EVER raise your taxes as your Congressman in Washington!”, what is he or she really saying to you?  “I will never vote for anything (even if it has $1 trillion in bonafide scored-by-CBO savings in it) if it has even a $1 tax hike in it’.

If 44% of the current Congress are Republican and have signed the No Tax Pledge, doesn’t that pretty much prevent them from having to vote for anything if a tax is added to any spending or reform bill?

These tax pledges make it way, way too easy for your congressman to vote against anything that will cut spending or hold down the rate of growth of spending at the federal level. They wind up being convenient excuses for both political parties to hide behind to do absolutely nothing on the great issues of the day.

And there is no greater issue facing us right now than these volcanic debts growing on a daily basis.

The flip-side is true as well. You surely have heard a Congressperson, of either party, vow: “I will stand in the doorways of Congress and block any attempt by those granny-haters to tamper with your Social Security or Medicare benefits!”

Well, once again, if we have the other side issuing a George Wallace-type proclamation to vote against ANY changes to the entitlement programs that are basically causing the budget to explode in the first place, is there any wonder why we are now facing $20 trillion debts while Greece and the other PIIGS nations are about to go under as well?

Our question is this to every candidate and incumbent in Congress: "What in the world are you gonna vote FOR in order to close these yawning deficits and unimaginable national debt? You can't just wave a magic wand over it all and make it just 'poof away', you know!"

Unfortunately for the true idealists on either side, we don’t live in a nation that admires dictators very much.  We don’t want power to be totally concentrated in the hands of the ultra right-wing or the far left- wing (do we?) The American psyche hates dictatorships, or should hate them, wherever they are around the globe.

And that means that neither side is always going to get their way 100% of the time so that means everyone has got to re-learn the art of compromise, get what you can, and come back the next year to fight again for what you believe in.

We should all heed the counsel of President Reagan from 1981-1989 who used to tell Senator Bob Dole and others leading his legislative efforts on Capitol Hill in his soft, slightly raspy voice: “Well, er, ah, Bob, er, Senator Dole, go up there to, er, ah, Capitol Hill and get 70% of what we want this year, any way you can get it and we’ll come back next year to try to get the rest of it’.

Gotta love the Gipper, whether you loved him or hated him.

On the matter of political ‘pledges’, our conclusion is that they don’t work very well:    

1) Pledges work against the ‘prime objective’ of our civil government which is to pass the best legislation based on majority rule with protections for the minority.

2) Pledges are a veil behind which politicians hide when they don’t want to make the hard decisions we have elected them to make for us.

3) Pledges ‘dumb-down’ the complicated issues to such a point that they diminish the magnitude of the issue to the voting population.

4) The time for charades and shenanigans is over. With a $20 trillion debt staring us right in our faces, it is time to take away control of our government from the charlatans and wanna-bees and get mature, sober-minded statesmen back into leadership positions so we can solve these massive, massive problems before it is too late.

Drop all pledges. Stop signing them. And stop voting for people who do sign them.  Elect some statesmen-like representatives and senators to go up there, do the public’s work, stop blow-drying their hair and looking good for the television cameras and come home. Get these problems solved, period.

That act is getting old.

Reagan picture courtesy of

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