Among the Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination, only former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson had the self-respect to denounce the ludicrous “Marriage Vow” pledge. Such pledges are a means through which small interest groups can make candidates crawl. The intimidation comes from their highly engaged members, who can affect the outcome of unrepresentative political contests — the upcoming Iowa caucuses being a good example.
For the record, Iowa is very much a swing state. As of July 1, Republicans accounted for 31 percent of Iowa’s registered voters, Democrats 33 percent and independents 36 percent. Yet small collections of fanatics can, in effect, threaten the political future of candidates who need to impress a wider electorate. Politicians’ inability to say “no” to these pledges has hampered their ability to govern wisely in a complicated world.
Case in point: Many Republicans quake with fear at doing what they know they must to seriously address the deficit crisis: include new revenues alongside spending cuts. But year after year, they feel forced to sign a stupid promise to never raise any taxes no matter the reason. The misnamed Americans for Tax Reform keeps them in the harness by threatening their political destruction if they don’t sign its pledge.
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