Grover Norquist notoriously turned the no-new-taxes pledge he demanded of conservative legislators into a weapon of mass destruction. The American economy now suffers from the burden of unsustainable cumulative debt and the likely shredding of the social contract Americans have traditionally observed towards sharing responsibility for the quality of life in our once-great nation. All because the fiscal terrorists of the right refuse to require the rich to pay their fair share of the cost of sustaining a viable, compassionate, humane society.
In addition to the imposed fiscal conservatism of the Norquist blackmail, big money now trumps voter preferences in determining national policy. The deluge of dollars flowing into Washington via lobbyists, campaign contributions, and PACs, has drown out the legitimate voice of the common citizen. Consequently, this is now also the era of the “silent pledge”, paid-for unspoken commitments to the rich and powerful, the result being that on a great number of key issues our elected representatives and the laws they pass are directly at odds with a majority of the American public.
I believe this same weapon, the candidate pledge, now deployed to such grossly destructive ends, can be used to an opposite effect, that is, as a means of restoring some sanity to what comes out of the U. S. Senate and Congress. Candidate pledges can result in legislation on a host of crucial issues and pull the country out of the death spiral we currently find it in. I’m referring to familiar measures supported by large majorities that reflect the stated values and express wishes of the American people.
This coming election provides the necessary and pivotal opportunity to confront our representatives and deliver an ultimatum, an ultimatum in the form of a new kind of pledge, one that hasn’t been seen in a while __ a pledge to do the right thing.
Or more to the point: Do the right thing or suffer the consequences!
Here in broad strokes is the concept. Immediately following are the specific steps we take. Stay with this. It’s not more moaning about the problem. It’s a strategy for a solution.
We begin with a specific demand on a critical issue. We put it in writing. The document takes the form of a candidate pledge, a binding contract to unambiguously and decisively perform certain actions in the Senate or House of Representatives, in order to implement a policy now supported by a large majority of American voters on the issue. Included as you will soon see are very specific directions.
We force candidates to sign the pledge. If they do, we’re done. We get the legislation we want. If they refuse, we go after them! We humiliate them, mock and taunt them, harass them, stigmatize them, jeopardize their support, and do everything we can to defeat them. We brook no compromise. We accept no excuses. We leave no room for equivocation.
The salient point is that for once we will have the tools to do this.
For this to work, the pledges must embrace those issues where the voting public by vast majorities have indicated precisely what they want done: Social Security, taxes on the rich, the war in Afghanistan, oil industry subsidies, Medicare. Frankly, it’s appalling how many important issues the public has clearly and unambiguously indicated in credible polls, exactly where they stand, only to have our politicians defy them. Please refer to my previous post: “Trust No Incumbent” to get a perspective on this.
In a perfect world, every candidate should be required to sign the pledges. This would put the control of voting on these critical items directly in the hands of voters.
Realistically this is impossible. There simply is not enough time. Plus we can get done what needs to be done without unanimity.
For now, it is more important to target incumbents, specifically those incumbents who have voted against enormously popular measures. Conveniently via their voting records they have handed us gift-wrapped the ammunition we need to force their hands. Bear in mind, these are the arrogant scoundrels who have brazenly sold the American public and their constituents down the river. They have curtsied to their rich campaign donors and blown off the rest of us as irrelevant. Until now they’ve paid no price for their arrogance and irresponsibility.
These are the ones we go after.
These are the ones we will either turn around or send packing.
Let me point out that this kind of precise targeting is exactly the way the right wing goes about decimating the ranks of progressives. It obviously works. Time to turn the tables.
Step 1: Petitions
The process starts with petitions, i. e. canvassing within a particular voting district, or entire state if the targeted incumbent is a senator. We do this in order to collect hard numbers on the level of support there is for the initiatives we want passed.
Here is a sample petition, the suggested format for canvassing on any issue:
I am a registered voter and will only vote for a candidate for public office who will leave social security alone. If a candidate guarantees unequivocally to fight for keeping social security as it currently stands, I will give that candidate my unqualified support.
Obviously, the petition is more of an endorsement of a specific policy position than an actual petition for some action. But it accomplishes precisely what is needed here.
In fact, the petitions are the linchpin for the assault on these scoundrels. They provide the leverage needed to get their attention and then make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Undoubtedly, it would be ideal to get a majority of the voters in a district to sign these petitions. But that is a daunting, time-consuming task, even on issues which have large majority support. I frankly don’t think it’s necessary.
All that needs to be achieved is convincing a candidate that if he or she doesn’t sign the pledge, they risk losing election. It must appear either rationally or fearfully in their best interest to sign on the dotted line.
Let’s say local polls show that a candidate in a given target district of 20,000 voters has a comfortable lead of 2,000 votes. It seems to me that if only two to three times this number of petition signatures are gathered, that’s going to certainly make a candidate take pause. Are these 4,000 to 6,000 voters who are demanding specific action on a particular issue __ “I will only vote for a candidate who …” __ the ones who will tank the election? Without these voters is it even remotely possible to win?
I predict some cold sweats and sleepless nights.
Petitioning is no fun and people are often shy about signing them. But getting 4,000 to 6,000 people out of 20,000 to sign a petition telling the government to bring our troops back home from Afghanistan or to stop screwing around with Medicare, seems pretty doable. Even starting first week of June, we have five months until the election.
Polls indicate there are a number of issues where a large majority of Americans, from left, right, and center of the political spectrum, overwhelmingly agree. The size of that majority will vary from district to district. The point is that within each local political environment it is possible to identify at least one if not several issues where constituents are distressed, if not completely outraged, about the vote that was cast by an incumbent politician.
It’s time to put his or her feet to the fire!
Step 2: Getting Another Candidate To Sign
As leverage, it is essential to have another individual in the race sign the pledge.
Ideally it should be the incumbent’s major-party opponent. If it is, it’s a done deal. He or she will sign. No candidate in their right mind is going to hand their primary opponent that kind of advantage by refusing to match the stakes.
But it could be any minor-party candidate, or even an independent. This candidate is a very different kind of threat __ the wild card! __ the ‘spoiler candidate’.
First let’s remind ourselves of this: Besides the Democrats and Republicans, there are three political parties which have active, aggressive, structured organizations at both the state and national levels: the Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, and the Green Party of the United States. The Green Party, for example, is registered and functioning in every state of the union, and Washington DC.
Additionally, there are 37 minor parties, some national, some local or regional, and they regularly put candidates on the ballot.
It seems reasonable to assume that in any congressional race, it would be possible to find at least one candidate from this profusion of parties willing to sign the pledge. Minor-party candidates always need all the help they can get for their usually doomed efforts to win a seat. Many such candidates are already running on populist platforms in support of the very initiatives we would be promoting. These causes are typically their raison d’être for even tackling the thankless and typically futile ordeal of running against the big guns of the major parties. We can expect them to gleefully sign the pledge.
As a final resort, someone could volunteer to be a write-in candidate, where local election laws permit, and sign the pledge.
The important thing is to be able to honestly claim that another candidate in the race __ even just a “spoiler”, wild-card minor-party or independent candidate __ has already signed the pledge.
Step 3: Confronting the Targeted Candidate
The candidate is shown the petition signatures. The candidate is asked to sign the pledge.
Here is a sample pledge for leaving social security alone, which depending on how the polling question is framed, nationally registers from 64% to 80% voter support. It offers a template for demands on a host of other issues:
I, [candidate name], if re-elected to my seat in the [Senate/House of Representatives], hereby commit to co-sponsor and vote in favor of legislation to establish a 10-year moratorium on any reductions to social security benefits, on increasing the eligibility age, or making any other alteration in the program as it is now configured such as might negatively impact eligible recipients of such benefits. I will offer no resistance to, put up no impediment to, and in fact will publicly and on the floor of Congress actively promote any and all legislation in support of this measure. If no other legislator comes forth to offer such a moratorium, I will create and introduce by my own initiative, within 90 days of taking office, such a legislative act.
I further understand and fully agree to the following: If I violate the above-stated terms of this pledge, I will tender on the 91st day after taking an oath of office for my legislative seat, my full and unqualified resignation from this elected position. Moreover, within one year of my resignation, I will refund all contributions made from individual donors in support of my candidacy for this office.
This entire pledge constitutes a legally binding contract between myself and that class of citizens who will be my constituents, should I win the upcoming election. In the event that I fail to perform any of the above-required actions, redress may be sought by those same citizens in the form of a class-action suit in a civil court of law, and I will be liable for a minimum of $10,000,000 damages for breach of contract. If I fail to resign from office due to my failure to fulfill the other requirements of this contract, I may be liable for an additional class-action settlement in the amount of $50,000,000. No portion of these specified settlements may be paid from campaign donations, PACs or SuperPACs.
I take this pledge voluntarily and with full appreciation of my responsibility to those citizens I will be representing in my capacity as elected representative from [name of state]. I accept the terms of this pledge with a thorough and lucid understanding of its requirements and consequences.
Signed: _____________________________ Date: __________________
Predictably, he laughs. He huffs. He puffs. He stalls.
Now we point out that another candidate has already signed the pledge.
If the other candidate is the major-party opponent, this should be stated loud and clear.
If it’s a minor-party or an independent, there’s no point in volunteering who it is.
But remember, this is still very bad news for the candidate we are confronting. It’s not going to be as frightening or urgent but it still applies the pressure. You have just shown several thousand signatures of people who have said they will only vote for a candidate who supports the position. And you’ve got another candidate who has signed the pledge. All the targeted candidate needs to think is that there is a “spoiler vote” out there, just enough angry voters that it could cost the election.
Ask Al Gore about spoiler votes.
The ball is now in the candidate’s court.
If he signs, we’ve got him or her exactly where we want. Like it or not he is aligned with us, at least on the particular legislative matter covered by the pledge.
If he doesn’t sign, he is setting himself up for a firestorm of bad publicity, hopefully some serious public outrage, and voter backlash. I can see the local headlines now . . .
[Name of candidate] Refuses To Sign Pledge Protecting Social Security
It’s definitely going to get his attention, especially if we work the media effectively. If the media won’t cover it, we’ve still got the streets, the internet, and word-of-mouth. We can definitely cause some pain.
We Facebook it. We Twitter it.
We post it on Tumblr, Pinterest and Digg.
We call it into radio talk shows. We get ourselves on TV.
We carry signs at rallies, in mall parking lots, on busy street corners . . .
Millionaire Senator [name] won’t sign pledge for fair taxes on the rich!
Congressman [name] won’t pledge support for affordable health care!
And though I shouldn’t have to say it, let me make this very clear. I know this is tough talk. But this is not about causing random mayhem or inciting a campaign of vindictiveness or character assassination. It’s about taking our country back and having “representative government” represent us __ something it hasn’t done for quite some time.
The idea is simply to force the incumbent’s hand and accomplish one of two things. Either he comes around under the pressure and signs the pledge, or we run the SOB out of office.
Reward good behavior. Punish bad behavior.
It’s that simple.
These guys are acting like spoiled little children, so we’ll treat them as such.
Let me add this: This tactic doesn’t have to and shouldn’t wherever possible revolve around a single issue. Each voting district has its hotbuttons. It has some set of issues which are threshold issues, matters of public policy which a majority of voters have strong feelings about. Each of those hotbutton issues equates to a pledge. Refusal to sign any or all of the pledges results in the campaign I am proposing, a campaign to educate the public. To force the candidate to comply.
It’s their choice. Either they sign the pledges and start working for us or they go bye-bye.
Confrontation, Coercion, Bullying
It’s unfortunate it has come to this. Politics has always been a rough-and-tumble game. But the game is now so rigged, we have no choice but to give these creeps some of their own medicine. Fight fire with fire. We will get what we demand. Because it is under our Constitution, rightfully ours in the first place.
The important thing is to show these sell-outs that we are fed up with the way our voice has been silenced by big money corporate donors, by the military-industrial complex, by the banksters, by the thieves that have looted the U.S. Treasury and now are coming for even more of our money.
This offensive if properly orchestrated, even only concentrating on a few dozen of these turncoat legislators, is going to be big news. It’s going to put on notice all of the politicians who have been for too long sliding by on empty promises.
I strongly believe that if the above-outlined strategy of petitions and pledges is brutally deployed across the entire country against the political puppets erroneously posing as the people’s representatives, it has a good chance of changing the way business is done in our corrupted legislature.
It’s time to take back our country.