05 June 2007

[or_politik] The Triumph Of The Will Of The Voter

825 Now, I know public policy is a tricky, tricky thing. I have, as I'm sure many have, occasionally had fantasies about being a courageous elected official, but then I usually lay down and relax, and eventually, the feeling goes away.

Someone around here has to be the citizen.

So, I vote yes for what I care about, what I think makes good sense, and what is moral; it's what I can do. Now, in our highly-flawed but (ideally, anyway) best-of-all-worlds system, we as a group get asked to decide on some pretty absurd things every once in a while. Some of them are worth answering and some of them make me think that we don't need that handbasket any more; we've arrived. So, I answer the question.

Voting is a popularity contest; the winningness of any given ballot measure depends, unfortunately, not so much on whether anything is a good idea but how many people can be talked into thinking it's a good idea (or, how many people's idea that the idea is a good idea can be reinforced). So, lately, some pretty stupid stuff has become the law of the land.

Now, I believe that, with some exceptions, inside of many stupid ideas are parts that are good or, at least, worth working on. Nothing that gets sent up to Salem by We The People ought to be inviolate; from the crooked timber of mankind, no straight thing ever was made. At least we should expect the Leg to take anything we come up with that his half-baked to put it back in the oven and bake it the rest of the way.

Pity is, we don't live in that world. There's a tyrant walking the landscape; it has the power to shut down discussion and brand those who don't agree with it as traitors to the common good (or worse). It's called The Will of the Voter, and all you have to do is breathe its name. Woe betide you if you decide to take it on.

I've had occasion to consider Will lately in the het-up over Measure 37. M37 is a typical popularity-contest winner; flawed and not such a good idea, but so many people believed the campaign in favor of it that sanity never really had a chance. It has the ability to allow subdivisions to sprout where none ought to be; it creates a new class of landowner who has more rights other people; it has the power to stretch limited county budgets even farther; it seems to solve a problem that really didn't seem to exist before people were asked to vote on it.

Latterly the Leg is trying to make it so that maybe it won't bankrupt the country governments or ruin the Oregon I was born in and grew up in. Watch in predictable dismay as the Republicans who base their reputations on being seen in the street with M37 bring old Will into the discussion. Will's always by their side; he's their big buddy, their defender. Don't touch it! It's the Will of the Voters! It's been blessed; there's nothing broken about it. They fiddle while Oregon's livability (and profitability...Oregon's success in agriculture has a lot to do with the fact that we've controlled urban sprawl) burns to the ground.

Another thing that Will seems to like an awful lot is gay people...but not in the good way. We will all recall Measure 36 from the same year, a vote we should pretty much all be ashamed of. Gay people aren't threatening marriage so much as straight people are (I think marriage ought to be protected from certain Hollywood celebrities, not to name names. Such people should have a mandatory 30-day waiting period. But I digress).

But, even though this is really the last thing we need to worry about, some people fought to make us all decide. And, since gay people are icky, people voted it in. Now, some wise people in the Leg have managed to get civil unions into the law; it's second-class citizenship for gays, which I still think is something we shouldn't be so sanguine about, but it's better than nothing. But already I hear rumbling about Will's ire being aroused.

Actually, it's not so much The Will of The Voters anymore as it is The Tyranny of the Majority. Latterly, The Will of the Voter has been tainted in the same way as patriotism has been; it's become the last refuge of the scoundrel. It's a convenient place to hide and retaliate from when a dumb idea has become law by referendum but the proponents of said dumb ideas soon discover that just because they won the war doesn't mean that the losers are going to just shut up and like it; what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

We live in a society where The Will of The Voters is confused, frequently, with justice, sense, sanity, leadership, and courage. That's not to say that Will isn't important, but he's been made God...and that's a problem now, and it's going to be a problem in the future unless we have actual courage, which means facing up to bad decisions and have the true bravery to fix our mistakes.

I have dim hope that this will happen as long as people are willing to vote their hearts and feelings rather than their brains. But this is a place where I (perhaps foolishly) believe that anything could happen, including the good thing.


No comments: