Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Election Elation and Dejection

It’s been a long time since I’ve added an entry, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had anything to say. I really just don’t feel like getting on the computer when I get home from work at night. But, I’ve been writing entries in my head, and now it’s time to put them here.

So, the biggest news since my last entry has been the US election. I will never forget the pain I felt during the last two elections (2000 & 2004) as I watched the results come in. Both times, I was confident Bush would lose, and he didn’t. This time, even though I felt Obama would win, I learned not to believe anything until the results were in.

When the results did come in and they showed Obama to be the winner, I was very happy, but I didn’t have the sense of elation that I expected. I guess I felt that it was a nice change and something in the best interest of the US, but since I am in Canada now, I kind of feel that it’s too late for me to see or experience the benefits of the coming changes.

Regardless, I called many of my friends and family in Michigan and Illinois to congratulate them and to share in their joy. The liberal turnout of the election was amazing—stem cell research and medical marijuana use passed in Michigan. Even my uptight Dutch religious conservative county of Ottawa repealed its ban on Sunday liquor and beer sales.

I was especially pleased to see the bill in California to improve the treatment of farm animals had passed. But that’s where my happiness at the result of the California election stopped. It took two more days after the election, but finally it was announced that the state overturned the gay marriage law that the courts there had passed earlier in the year.

Putting aside my anger at the people who voted to revoke equal rights for a minute, let me ask, when did the US become a country ruled by referendum?? One of the most fundamental tenets of democracy is that the majority rules BUT the minority is protected.
Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America wrote of the dangers in a democracy of the majority’s power to opress, regulate, or infringe on the rights of the minority. As he points out, this is the function of the courts—to prevent the tyranny of the majority.

The apparent trend in the US today, especially as it pertains to gay rights, is label court judges as “activist” when they make decisions that promote equality for those in the minority. (Interesting how conservative judges on a mission to ban abortion or to remove gun control laws aren’t labelled as “activist.” ) Then, if the majority (heterosexuals) don’t like the decision the “activist” judges have made, they organize a referendum, get signatures, raise obscene amounts of money, and wage a campaign of misinformation and hate to get the rest of those in the majority to vote to overturn the court’s decisions.

While it is within the power of the people to organize and conduct a referendum, let’s not forget the court’s obligation to prevent tyranny of the majority. To put this in perspective, let’s pretend for a minute that people were less embarrassed to be racist than they are to be gay-haters. In that case, the wise majority would have certainly put the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education court decision up for a referendum. And what would have been the result? The majority of voters being white, and many of those being outwardly racist, and others happy to let theirs show only while behind the voting curtain, certainly would have resulted in an overturn of the court decision—tyranny of the majority. This is, essentially, what happened in California.

Ironically, polls seem to indicate that it was visible minorities who turned the vote against equal marriage.

If the well-known saying, “As goes California, so goes the rest of the country” really is true, than I guess it’s a good thing I’m already in Canada.

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