Family-values blackmail in Iowa

I suppose it makes sense, as presidential politicking picks up speed, to try to get the candidates to put some of their lofty campaign promises in writing.

Are you really going to cut taxes, balance the budget, dismantle the EPA and bomb Iran?

Or are you just saying that because you think that's what we voters want to hear? Are you going to double-talk your way out of these commitments once you are safely in the White House?

Those hardscrabble Iowans sure aren't taking any chances with slippery politicians this presidential season. No sir.

An evangelical group called the Family Leader wants each Republican candidate to sign a 14-point pledge denouncing, among other things, same-sex marriage and Sharia Islamic law and endorsing, among other things, "robust reproduction" before that candidate can even be considered for endorsement in this month's caucus voting.

It is called "The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMILY" (emphasis theirs).

Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have signed. Mitt Romney said he won't sign because the pledge "contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign." (This alone is reason to give Mr. Romney another look.)

Newt Gingrich, in typical Newt Gingrich fashion, didn't actually sign the pledge but sent a long-winded letter to the Family Leader saying he supports most of the stuff in it, plus some other stuff that he'd like to mention.

Jon Huntsman said he doesn't sign pledges.

The pledge is the work of Bob Vander Plaats, who failed three times to win the Republican nomination for governor and apparently decided to skip elective office and move right to kingmaker.

The former schoolteacher is president of the Family Leader, a group he founded a year ago with the goal of throwing some weight around during the first-out-of-the-gate Iowa presidential voting.

It asks the candidates, among other things, to forswear adultery, which could be problematic for Mr. Gingrich, who committed adultery during his first two marriages and who is married to his third wife, the woman with whom he cheated on his second wife.

Though he declined the pledge, Mr. Gingrich did agree to its provision, "to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others," which is good news for Callista Gingrich.

Mr. Vander Plaats admitted Mr. Gingrich's past is a concern but added that his faith is all about forgiveness. And besides, Mr. Gingrich locked arms with him to bring down three Iowa Supreme Court justices who approved gay marriage and is said to have donated $200,000 to the effort. They are pals.

Is it me, or do these pledges, including Grover Norquist's no-tax-increase pledge, seem like blackmail? Sign off on our agenda or you won't get the support of our constituency (if one does, indeed, exist).

Instead of demanding to know how they plan to turn the economy around, we demand that they sign a pledge to support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

And, while we are at it, we get them to promise to require a cooling-off period for anyone seeking a speedy divorce and to keep men and women in the military from sleeping under the same roof and to defend the First Amendment (as if presidents can decide which parts of the Bill of Rights to defend).

As if the pledge could not be more offensive, an early version included the statement that African-American children were more likely to be raised in two-parent households when they were born into slavery than they are today.

Mr. Vander Plaats took that part out. But not the part about a how being gay is a choice.

Apparently, marriage vows, the pledge of allegiance and the oath of office aren't good enough anymore. If you want to be president, you have to pledge yourself to some nobody in Iowa.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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