Monday, October 06, 2003

Glad other folks can say it better...

My two big political betes noire -- Bush's anti-empiricism and California's insane initiative system -- are worked over in the op-ed pages of the big dailies. Neal Gabler's (time to pick up his book) "medieval presidency" piece might be the most rhetorically effective attack on this presidency I've come across. David Kennedy traces the initiative's origins in reformist populism to its use as a device to sabotage effective government today. Interesting thesis, though the disproportionate power of property owners with their libertarian instincts is only a corollary of the central problem with plebiscite rule -- that voters are simply not equipped to make a knowledgeable decision on most of the issues on the ballot.

The nadir of the California initiative system, as far as I'm concerned, is Proposition 211 in 1996, a convoluted securities fraud/attorneys fees initiative that utterly defies the understanding of laypersons. Heck, I took a Sec Reg class in law school, and I barely had a clue what this initiative entails even now. Of course, comprehension wasn't a huge deal for me because I vote "NO" on all initiatives as a matter of principle and have since 1992, but this ended up as a battle of misleading ads between trial lawyers and business groups. Say what you will about corrupt, career politicians, but at least you can expect them to be informed about the bill they're voting on -- it's the foundation of our republican form of government. The California initiative system results in wars of mass manipulation. May the group that puts out the best propoganda win.

Misguided populists on the left and right champion the initiative as "direct democracy" at work. Unless you have a hyper-informed and politically engaged electorate (that does not describe California), direct democracy is a recipe for disaster. Half the state's problems are caused by unintended (but foreseen) consequences of ballot measures that were ratified by the people. Come to think of it, that's probably the best reason to vote against both the Recall and Arnold. Never mind his other problems. The Gropenator insisted that he'll take all of his proposals to "the people" in the form of ballot initiatives if the legislature doesn't go along. Fuck that.