WASHINGTON — Thank you, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, from the bottom of our hearts and the pit of our stomachs. And, yes, Tim Pawlenty, too.
It is entirely gratifying that these three demonstrated the political courage to just say no to a ridiculous "marriage vow" concocted by a segment of the Republican Party's so-called base.
Huntsman and Romney went first, politely declining to be intimidated or coerced by an advocacy group, The Family Leader, into making meaningless promises in exchange for endorsements. Huntsman issued a blanket rejection of all pledges; Romney's organization issued a statement saying that the pledge included provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign. Pawlenty added his name to the list of non-signers on Wednesday.
Pawlenty took the leap after thinking it over for a while. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum both signed.
That Romney hesitated — and Pawlenty found it necessary to engage in prolonged mulling — is disappointing, but all get points for declining. If I may tweak Romney's spokesperson's statement just a tad: The entire pledge, not just certain provisions, is undignified and inappropriate — for any reason whatsoever.
Not only did the pledge originally include (until a few days ago) the outrageously ignorant suggestion that black children were better off during slavery because they were more likely to be raised in a two-parent household (except, of course, when the parents were sold separately), but it also requires that candidates promise to be faithful to their spouses.
Really. It would be hard to find more unlikely candidates for infidelity concerns than Huntsman and Romney, both Mormons whose lives qualify them for Eagle Scout Emeritus. Pawlenty is similarly spit-shined. From all appearances, they're the sort who live in accordance with their moral values without needing to flaunt their virtue or demanding that others admire and emulate their example. They walk the walk — and we're perfectly free to ignore them.
Not so The Family Leader. Never mind the cultish title. What possible good would a fidelity pledge do? Guarantee marital bliss? Make Mitt, Jon and Tim better husbands? Better role models? What grade are we in? In the traditional marriage these hall monitors so want to protect, grown-ups pledge fidelity to their betrothed, witnessed by God (or a judge), usually in the presence of canyons of friends and family. Who are these "leaders" to insist they deserve a higher degree of assurance? Off with their tiny little heads.
Other provisions of the Iowa group's pledge include a promise to support traditional marriage, a ban on pornography and rejection of Sharia law. There's a great deal to be said about all of the above, and serious, thoughtful debate is ongoing. But complex social issues deserve greater consideration than a simplistic thumbs up or thumbs down. And no presidential candidate should be required to play dumb for the sake of those who have displayed only righteous self-regard.
Republicans have a chance to reclaim the White House but only if they distance themselves from the sort of constituents who demand pledges. The Family Leader and other similar groups may go about their lives as they choose, but they're busybodies by any other name and their hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage surely must be about up.
Kathleen Parker's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org