In an effort to tighten the leash on Republicans running for office in 2012, an Iowa-based family values organization, despotically named the Family Leader, has drafted and disseminated a manifesto for candidates to sign and swear to. Redundantly titled “The Marriage Vow” it seeks to double down on commitments candidates have already made, will make or, worse yet, compel a pledge to its wildly warped logic of imposing an American-style sharia law while opposing Islam’s.
Its preamble can barely smother the author’s prejudice and pie-eyed nostalgia for 19th-century human rights. An original version of this document even had the temerity to suggest that a child born under slavery was more likely to benefit from a two-parent family than “an African American child born after the election of” President Barack Obama (never mind that the research referenced was conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency).
Declared presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann was first out of the gate to sign and swear by the document’s excoriation of adultery, quickie divorce, infidelity, pornography, cohabitation and Islamic sharia law. Then another Republican presidential hopeful, anti-gay scourge Rick Santorum, signed. Understandably, the remainder of the Republican field of candidates are studying the matter before answering this altar call. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson has been the only outspoken critic among the Republican presidential hopefuls.
How this pledge will help reel this nation’s economy back from the brink and provide 14 million job seekers with steady employment, remains to be seen. And what about the fidelity between each lesser-of-two-evils elected official and the voters who take him back, term after unfaithful term?
True to the buffet-style theology favored by the likes of Bachmann and Santorum, they overlook the Bible’s command to magistrates and other civic leaders in the discharge of their duties: ”[T]hou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. Justice, justice shalt thou follow…” (Deut. 16:18).
No 20th century culture war slogans there, nor condescending criticism of single parent families or gay couples. This oft-neglected text, older than old-fashioned, states a very obvious caution about justice and money, governing and accountability.
If we are now in the stage of this election cycle that pledges or vows should be drawn and adopted, why not one that will meaningfully shift the balance of influence in our nation? The only pledge that matters is the one an incumbent or challenger adopts: a promise to voters not to accept more than $200 per donor per year (by Federal Election Commision statute, it’s the minimum aggregate donation for which a candidate for federal office is required to report the source).
As Matt Taibbi writes about the workings of Congress in his book, The Great Derangement: A Terrifyng True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, “When you [an elected legislator] get $80,000 from Company X, you’re not being paid to vote your conscience.” And elected officials feeding at the trough of corporate largesse have proven that the experience is far too compelling to self-impose campaign finance limits.
And so, the voters must supply the other side of this pledge equation: to refuse campaigning or voting for any candidate, incumbent or challenger, who hasn’t committed to limit campaign contributions to $200 per donor. There’s no doubt in any voter’s mind (within the lower 98 percent income group) that we have embarked upon deeply troubling times with increasingly dire economic and political prospects.
However, to bring about this bottom-up change will require an exceptional openness of mind from the the public, as well as some surrender of personal latitude. Voters will have to cooperate with one another individually and mutually among communities and various organizations. It will demand an attention to, and engagement with, civic and legislative affairs, equal to or greater than the slickest, palm-greasing Capitol Hill lobbyist around.