Vox Populi, Vox Diddlysquat

One of the more disturbing trends I’ve been seeing grow over the past few years — or longer — is the unwillingness to trust the American people to, when given the chance, to choose to do the right thing. The notion of letting the people decide matters for themselves, to accept the responsibility of making major decisions and living with the consequences, has been falling further and further into disuse — and it troubles me.

Sometimes it’s on the small scale. Take, for example, seat belts. I am a seat belt militant. I sometimes put mine on while backing out of the garage. If you ride with me, you WILL wear your seat belt. It’s “my way or the highway,” and those that don’t like it can find their own way.

But that’s not how a lot of states see it. They see that seat belts are, overall, a good thing, so they insist that everyone wear them. Even those whose lives would be endangered by wearing one — for example, extremely short people who drive cars with air bags run the risk of having their necks broken when in a collision, when their close proximity to the steering wheel and the restraint of the air bags can combine to kill them. So seat belt usage is mandatory for everyone in many states.

Another is in the possession of handguns. The Constitution says that the people have the right to keep and bear arms, but it’s still regulated heavily. In fact, in many areas, it’s essentially forbidden. And the American Civil Liberties Union, as a matter of formal policy, says that the 2nd Amendment is unique in American law in that it cites not an individual right, but a “collective” right — and no individual is entitled to exercise it on their own.

Again, it is a matter of the state simply not trusting the citizens to act in a responsible and reasonable manner. Because some act in an irresponsible manner, all must pay the price.

And now we’re seeing it in the issue of gay marriage, especially in Massachusetts.

The essence of the problem with gay marriage in Massachusetts is that the people of the Bay State have elected a permanent group of cowards to their legislature.

When the issue of gay marriage first came up in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court essentially told the legislature to get off their collective asses and make a law or amendment or something, or they WILL make it legal by judicial fiat. The lawmakers hemmed and hawed and farted around and, in the end, did nothing — and the court decided that gay marriage was just fine and dandy.

Then the people started getting annoyed. They wanted the chance to vote on the matter, so they looked at the state’s constitution. If they could get enough signatures on petitions calling for a Constitutional amendment, then it would go on the ballot and they could vote on it.

The only hurdle was the craven lawmakers on Beacon Hill, who saw that the rules said they needed a three-quarters vote to kill it — and the proponents only needed one-quarter of the legislature to approve placing the measure up for a public vote.

Then they found a loophole. They could simply refuse to vote on it. They could just keep postponing and postponing the vote during the session, then let the clock run out and gosh darn it, they ran out of time. That’s what they did last time, and it’s what they are doing this year.

So, how is this flagrant insult to the people of the state and violation of their Constitutional duty going over?

Well, according to the Boston Globe, pretty darned well. And what does the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union say about this? They approve wholeheartedly.

I think it’s fair to say that, in the long run, when given the chance, the American people tend to make the right choice. For example, look at slavery and civil rights. When brought to the courts’ attention, they first ruled in favor of the Fugitive Slave Act. Then, they enshrined the doctrine of “separate but equal” and the principles of segregation. When they got around to dealing with THAT mess in the 50’s, it STILL wasn’t really meaningful. It wasn’t until a critical mass of the people finally spoke out and said that institutionalized segregation was unfair and unacceptable, and got their elected representatives (President Johnson and enough of the Congress), that the civil rights movement actually started winning real victories.

It all boils down to the simple question: do you trust the people to make the right choices, or do you think that some matters are so fundamental and simple that the answer is obvious, yet the majority of the people are so stupid or malicious that they will deliberately side against them?

In Alan Moore’s brilliant masterpiece, he opined that “people should not fear their government. Government should fear the people.” I’m not quite sure I go to that extreme, but I think it is far healthier for laws to be aimed at protecting people from their government, than for laws to be used to protect government from their people.

In Massachusetts, we’re seeing the legislature trying desperately to deny the people their constitutional right to change their constitution — and make no mistake, they have found a way to effectively destroy the petition process whereby they can change their Constitution. And it’s not just about gay marriage — another petition they eliminated would have mandated health care for all residents.

Me, I’ll side with letting the people decide the big issues. By and large, they eventually do the right thing.

(Editor’s note: third from final paragraph rephrased because, well, it sucked. Thanks, Dave, for pointing out I’d bobbled the phrasing.)

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  1. Dave November 14, 2006
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