Saturday, February 18, 2012

Populism Poison

NJ Gov. Chris Christie squatted into place among the most regressive of the wingers with his call for a plebiscite on marriage equality. After spitting on representative democracy by vetoing the same-sex marriage bill as he had threatened, he iterated his assertion that lawmakers had no business making laws about the matter.

As so many cowardly anti-gay sorts before him, he hides behind (beneath?) ballot measures for minority rights. His statement was predictable and included, "An issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide."

Let us be plain, boys and girls, when Americans are asked to change anything and to duplicate their rights for minorities, they almost invariably deny them to others. Historical polls and votes show we would have turned down the rights of Chinese to earn citizenship, for any two races to intermarry, for African Americans to vote, attend school with white or for homosexuals to be protected from overt discrimination in jobs, housing, credit and more. 

The Christie game is doubly cowardly because of its facade of populism. Pretending that the let-the-people-vote solution is anything other than a desperate effort to keep gay couples down is disgraceful.

Fair Origins

Half of our states have laws allowing ballot initiatives and/or referenda that can reverse laws. Those had honorable origins at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries, but are in serious need of revision. When the Populist Party (1890) and Progressive Party (1912) and such pushed for such plebiscites, those where to protect people from corrupt legislatures and governors who abused the public and disdained equality and civil rights. I have ranted about the Flamethrower of Populism for quite awhile.The bad guys have taken hold of this weapon and use it against the people.

Unlike our Colonial and early nationhood eras, we don't have our town government system except in the smallest population centers. We can't make major decisions on a city, state or national level by popular vote. Issues are generally too complex, we are too populous, and moneyed or other special interest groups can skew votes so there is not even a wisp of popular wisdom involved.

Moreover, the votes of the type Christie, the National Organization for Marriage, and other anti-gay folk want are sneaky in the worst way. In town meeting, if you vote to deny fellow citizens something, say a zoning variance or a new elementary school bond issue, you do it to their faces. They know who is mean, cruel, self-interested or vindictive.

In the dark

The plebiscites on others' rights are chicken. Like state and national elections, they are secret, Australian ballot votes. Behind the polling station partition or curtain, the worst is more likely to arise than the best. What the cliché — character is who you are in the dark?

Well, we already know who Christie is. He would delay marriage equality as long as possible. He would put the rights of groups he does not belong to up for secret votes. He would harm homosexuals for no purpose other than harming them.

The people of New Jersey poll strongly in favor of gay rights, including equal marriage. Now the legislature has just short of two years to get up to a two-thirds majority in the elected legislature to override his mean-spirited veto. This is a call to battle for equal rights. I am sure the pro-equality forces are up to it.

It's pathetic that one ambitious anti-gay guy can cause such division and bring such a waste of effort to turn back his hate. Here's hoping his plebiscite call fails badly and that the lawmakers care about what's right for their constituents (as well as what will get them reelected). Christie needs to get slapped down by the voters and legislators.

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