You don’t hear much about candidates in California. Let’s face it – unless the candidate is *from* California, this is a safe Democratic state all the way around. Nobody would pump serious money into California on a national level, any more than they would pour mad cash into New York or Texas. The only stuff that gets any airtime around here are…propositions.
Propositions are not nearly as much fun as they may sound. As a callow undergrad, I would have taken to the notion of “proposition” like an Irishman to a bottle of (INSERT APPROPRIATE SECTARIAN WHISKY HERE). But apparently that’s not what it means here beside the Western Sea. As far as I can tell, it means that all you have to do is round up a bunch of signatures, and you can have damn near anything show up on the ballot, and if 50% plus one will vote for it, pow – you have completely circumvented the normal political process. Woohoo! Break the chains of gridlock! Popular democracy at its finest!
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it. ”
-Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black
Look, I’m a smart guy. That’s not ego or vanity talking, that’s documented by the State of Alabama with evidence going back 30 years. I have two degrees in political science and take an inordinate interest in the minutiae of the political process, as evidence by my logorrhea over the last year or so in this very space. You know what? I couldn’t tell you what half this year’s propositions are, let alone which way I should be voting, and I’m brilliant.
Now, if Wile E. Coyote, geeeeeeenius, doesn’t know which end is up – exactly what are the odds that the ten million people who are NOT as bright as me have a better grip on the situation or are even paying attention? I’ll give you a hint; they voted this as their governor:
(NB: I’m through taking S off these people about Alabama politics.)
So what you end up with is a bunch of ill-informed people voting on poorly-detailed notions based on opinions they formed by who ran the most ads during Dancing with the Steers or whatever it is. And you wonder how come the Golden State gets this reputation.
The problem is, though, it’s a handy way to completely circumvent the process. My understanding is that the whole thing came about at a time when the government was hopelessly corrupt in the first decade of the 20th Century, and this technique allowed the Progressives to work their way around the roadblocks of the era. What it’s turned into, however, is a way of dodging the entire legislative process by just appealing to people to vote directly. And because of the civic religion of American democracy, this idea that “why don’t you just let the people vote on it themselves?” is very nearly Holy Writ. What could be more right and proper than giving a direct voice to the people?
Problem is, “the people” are dumber than hammered snot. Which is how you end up with a whole slew of strange, absurd, and often mutually-contradictory items on the ballot. The most common coping mechanism around here – and one I find absolutely no fault with – is just to vote “No” on every single one of them. The way I see it, in 2008, putting something to a popular referendum is more or less a concession that you can’t get it done through normal government channels. And if you’re a small-government conservative type (and God knows I have certain minimalist tendencies in the realm of practical politics), what the hell could be worse than allowing people to directly add to the bulk and burden of government?
Look, maybe this is academic and professional bias from the old days, but when my leg hurts, do I go out and take a poll and ask people to vote on what to do with it? No, I go to the doctor and get it scoped. When my car is acting strange, do I start asking people to vote Yes or No on going under the hood and pulling wires? No, I take my happy ass to the dealership and let them outrage the honor of my checking account. When I got a toothache, I spend zippy time at a rally asking the crowd one by one which tooth I should try pulling.
Do I know all the ins and outs of California politics? Hell no. Why should I? I’ve got people to do that FOR me, and they’re getting a chunk of my hide twice monthly plus eight cents on the dollar every time I need another Nalgene bottle. And if I don’t like the people I’ve got, I’ll hire some more people. The miracle of modern civilization, the thing that separates us from Neanderthals and Geico pitchmen scrobbling around hunting and gathering, the thing that lets us have iPods and Guinness and six weeks off work if I’d just stuck with my first job, is specialization. And in the long run, it’s totally worth it.
Now, can I have my bloody TV back, or do I have to wait for Wednesday?