Ezra Klein offers his reflection on “Why Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge works — even among voters who support taxes.”
“Want to know why Republicans sign Grover Norquist’s Tax-Payer Protection Pledge? Because it helps them win elections. Want to know why the pledge isn’t broken more often? Because breaking it makes them likelier to lose elections — even among voters who support tax increases.
“Grover Norquist’s pledge works. Here’s how. (Joshua Roberts – Reuters) That, at least, is what a new study (pdf) by Stanford’s Michael Tomz and Berkeley’s Robert Van Houweling concludes.”
The recent study at Stanford may hold a key to how to fix the American campaign system. Here’s the line that caught my eye:
“[I]t’s very hard for a politician to find a political upside in breaking the pledge…”
Grover Norquist is onto something. According to the study, the ones who win are the ones who have taken the pledge. Americans respect candidates and elected officials who stand for something. Norquist’s pledge is the only one out there. Perhaps we need a new pledge to the American people. But where to start?
In the run up to November 2012, the political handlers have hit the delete button on an old Commandment. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” now reads “You shall bear false witness against your neighbor.” It’s the only way to get elected.
To “bear witness” is to testify to the truth. The rule of law depends upon it. When things are in dispute, witnesses are sworn in before they testify – bearing witness to what they saw, what they experienced, what they know to be true. In lesser matters where there might be mischief or misrepresentation, documents require the stamp of a notary public whose seal bears witness to (verifies) the document’s authenticity.
Perhaps campaign reform could learn from these practices and Grover Norquist’s Tax-Payer Protection Pledge.
It’s surreal and ultimately inadvisable, but imagine that in order for a candidate, a political party, or PAC to use the public airwaves for political advertising in this democratic republic, they would be required to appear before a judge to
“swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the American people, so help me God.”
The American people’s electoral decisions depend on the integrity of the democratic process, part of which is the campaigns that elect candidates to public office. The public airwaves belong to the American people. No one goes on the air without taking the pledge of truthful witness.
When candidates, parties or campaign surrogates are charged and found guilty, they would lose their privilege of air time for a fixed period. They would again appear before the court to take the pledge that commits them to bear truthful witness to the American people
Such an idea is surreal, even to the point of being Orwellian – “Big Brother” censoring what goes over the state intercom. It will never happen.
But what if voters who care deeply about the integrity of the electoral process tear a page from Grover Norquist’s notebook by creating a pledge of our own?
“The Protect Democracy Pledge” would invite candidates to “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” as a first step to gaining possible support. It would also require them to declare that they are not beholden to any other pledge but the oath of office to protect the Constitution of the United States of America. Like the Tax-Payer-Protection Pledge, signing The Protect Democracy Pledge to bear truthful witness would become the first step in earning a voter’s consideration for election to office.
Stranger things have happened. Look at Grover Norquist. His pledge works because candidates pledge to stand by it. Read Ezra Klein’s piece. Isn’t it time for a different kind of pledge that will allow candidates to stand for something: the protection of democracy itself?