No Pledges except the Oath of Office

No Pledges except the Oath of Office

by Robert S. Kaplan

Upon election, America’s leaders make an oath to serve the people. Yet most Democrats and Republicans tie their hands with single-issue partisan pledges -- pledges that prevent them being open minded about analyzing and considering alternatives that could be crucial to building the future of this nation. No wonder that Congress is so polarized and the American people are losing faith in this group to face reality, do real analysis and come together to find solutions. Most business people know that if they took this same approach, they would eventually go out of business.

The 235 representatives and 41 senators who signed Americans for Tax Reform’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” promised to oppose all tax increases, including changes to loopholes and deductions.

The 110 Representatives and 11 Senators who signed the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's "Social Security Protector's Pledge," committed to oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including retirement age increases.

Between the two pledges, almost 80 percent of the House and more than half of the Senate have committed themselves to rigid positions -- regardless of the facts that come to their attention. The majority of our elected congressional officials lock themselves into ironclad positions before they ever look at facts. This approach destroys the ability of Congress to adapt to changing times and circumstances -- and solve problems!

Let’s look at the debt ceiling debacle earlier this year. Our leaders were hamstrung by pledges, unable to discuss viable options and reach any reasonable compromise. As a result, America experienced a humiliating failure of government.

It’s time for leadership. That’s why No Labels is proposing that elected officials stop taking any pledges except their oath of office.

Leaders must know they are responsible for facing reality, doing the tough analysis and developing solutions. They can not and should not “hide behind” timeless and inflexible promises to single-issue groups.

It’s time for our elected officials to step and lead. They must represent all of their constituents’ interests -- not make promises to single issue constituencies that prevent them from serving the needs of all Americans.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation about No Labels’ proposed congressional rules reforms. Read a recap of yesterday's reform idea here and last week's reform ideas here.

Robert S. Kaplan is a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and co-chairman of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy firm. Prior to joining Harvard Business School in September 2005, Rob served as Vice Chairman of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

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  • May 31, 2013
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    Using personality traits and skills as benchmarks when discussing someone’s leadership potential are a thing of the past -- these days it’s all about trust. In a Forbes article, Charles Green states that leadership theory now revolves around authenticity, emotional intelligence and relationships, which together reflect the growing importance of building trust. Businesses are starting to learn but Congress is still lagging behind.
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