Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking the Pledge

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: I pledge to buy handmade goods for myself and my loved ones, and request that others do the same for me. I pledge I will not text while I am driving. I pledge to reduce unnecessary idling by turning off my vehicle when stationary for more than 5 minutes unless in traffic. I pledge to catch and release, to save money and spend it wisely, and to play an active role in building a strong, vibrant and diverse Michigan economy. Actually, scratch that last one; I live in New York, so I don't really feel obligated to buy any Mackinaw Island Fudge.

Those are just a smattering of the innumerable pledges that are being solicited online. And while I may be unwilling to profess fealty to my Wolverine friends, you might be so inclined. In fact, if you're the type that feels compelled to make a formal commitment to a course of action or type of thought, there is no shortage of opportunities. Do a search for "take the pledge," and somewhere on the order of 6 million possibilities come up. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals(PETA) wants you to promise "never to go to a circus that uses animals," while the Clark Fork Coalition in Missoula, MT want you to pledge to "clean, inspect and dry your boat, boots and waders." And at Cornell students are encouraged to "Take Back The Tap" and choose tap water over bottled water, though in a bit of serendipity, local keg distributors have similar signs up and aren't against any synergies that might occur.

Pledges have gained new-found visibility this season as the Republican presidential hopefuls have been trying to out-promise each other to sign on to as many intractable positions as possible. Most well-known is the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" championed by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, to never ever, ever raise taxes. There's the "Cut, Cap and Balance" vow to promote a balanced budget, the "Pro-Life Citizens Pledge" focusing on anti-abortion and the "Marriage Vow" pledge, which, among other things, states that signers of the document recognize "the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better sex." With regard to the last, it's worth mentioning Bill Maher's point that while that may be true, it's just not with each other.

But while it's easy to agree on the advisability of not texting while driving, most things aren't that clear cut, and certainly not in the arena of politics. Tea Partiers aside, who really believes that everything is so black and white? That's not to say that you can't have strongly held positions. It's just that taking a stand to the point of swearing you will never consider an alternate view regardless of the circumstances or evidence seems a fool's errand. Or at the very least, it's certainly not the marker of a person who says they will lead all the people by acknowledging the challenges, considering all the options and then choosing the one that is the best for the majority.

There are ample examples of this in history: slavery, strip mining, child labor to name just a few. In each case, the prevailing point of view at the time was considered gospel, with overwhelming opinion on one side of the ledger. Sentiment was such at one point that if it been suggested to potential leaders that they sign a pledge guaranteeing the women never be allowed to vote, there's no doubt many would have. Now it's harder to imagine that that point of view was ever considered legitimate.

Which brings us back to Bill Maher. He is promoting a pledge which is a seven point common sense approach to politics, one that admittedly is couched in his own particular style. The second plank is "No driving a truck or eating at a rural diner or any other homespun kiss-ass bull you wouldn't normally do." Three is "no more flag pins, because you're running for President of the United States, and I think we can safely assume you're on the team." And six, "you have to stop saying that ‘the American people are smarter than that,' and admit that a lot of the American people are morons." Say what you will about his politics, the man has a point.

But perhaps the most important position is the first. If we can get all in the mix to sign it, Democrat and Republican alike, perhaps we can get on to more important stuff. It's very simple, and it would solve a lot of problems. Number one is this: after this, you have to pledge to sign no more pledges.  Pen, please.


Marc Wollin of Bedford pledges to never sign a pledge. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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