Earlier this week, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman did something fairly extraordinary for a presidential candidate -- he refused to play along with campaign season silliness.

While in South Carolina, the Republican candidate said he would not sign Jim DeMint's "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge, the senator's latest scheme in his quest to become the GOP kingmaker. The pledge basically says spending must be cut, the deficit capped and a constitutional amendment passed to require a balanced budget.

On Thursday, Huntsman said that he'd had a cordial conversation with the senator, told him that he was sympathetic to his goals and in full agreement with the sentiment -- but he doesn't sign pledges. "I got a lot of those as governor, and am getting a lot of them now," Huntsman said. "I think actions speak louder than words."

It's about time someone took a stand against the proliferation of these campaign gimmicks and had the guts, to borrow a phrase from the Reagan era, to just say no.

No flexibility

These days, pledges have become a litmus test for some voters, a make-or-break condition for supporting a candidate.

Litmus tests are fine for a laboratory, but rarely work in real life. Part of the problem in these debt-ceiling negotiations is this Grover Norquist pledge against all tax increases that a lot of politicians signed.

Many of those Congress types believe that agreeing to close loopholes or let tax cuts expire will violate their pledge. As such, they are refusing to pounce on some decent deals to cut the deficit. And it's not getting any smaller.

It is a cautionary tale. In politics, going into negotiations with your limits on record puts you at a decided disadvantage. "If you go around signing pledges, by the time you get elected you have little operating room and no flexibility," Huntsman said.

Of course, Huntsman refused to sign a Norquist-like pledge in Utah, and then went on to pass major tax cuts. So just because someone refuses to sign a silly pledge doesn't mean they have something to hide.

The fine print

To see the real problem with all this, all you have to do is look at the Family Leader's Iowa marriage vow, which Michele Bachmann signed -- presumably without actually reading it.

That thing had more fine print than a 30-year mortgage, and said that African-American marriages were better under slavery than under Obama.


Huntsman took a chance in refusing to play ball with DeMint. In South Carolina, some people think the senator walks on water. Of course, that really would be the case if he had his way and allowed Charleston Harbor to silt in.

In fact, this no-pledges stand may work out just fine for Huntsman. Although some people will be put off by his refusal to go along with DeMint's shenanigans, many others will see it as refreshing.

It's about time we had some mature, serious people running for office around here.

Reach Brian Hicks at follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.