You’ve Seen One Hussein, You’ve Seen ‘Em All

I’ve been thinking about democracy a lot lately. It happens every time there’s an election. Every time I start getting bombarded by mailers for candidates and propositions. Every time I realize how susceptible people are to propaganda.

Week before last, I was watching “The Daily Show”‘s coverage of the West Virginia primary. They showed three people explaining why they didn’t vote for Barack Obama. One, calling a spade a spade, said it was because he was of “the other race.” One couldn’t get past “the Hussein thing.” And the third said, “He’s Muslim, and that has a lot to do with it.”

I wrote before about how I’m constantly reminded how small my world is, how much the people I associate with are like me. But I kind of understand many of the ones who aren’t. I can try to put myself in their worlds and view things from their positions, and I can more or less get where they’re coming from. I may not agree with it, but I will defend to the death their right to think that way. (Well, maybe not to the death. I was watching the terrible remake of The Andromeda Strain last night and remarked to my wife about how people in the movies and TV are always so much more eager to give up their lives for the greater good than people in real life are.)

The people I don’t understand — the people I just can’t seem to wrap my poor head around — are the ones who get absurdly wrong ideas in their heads, and don’t let anything dislodge them from there. Okay, lady Number One above is a racist, pure and simple. Fine. It’s her right. Let her vote for someone else because there are problems with “the other race.”

And the voter with “the Hussein thing”? Horribly lame, but I have to believe she knows he’s not related to the late Saddam, and that it’s some sort of gut reaction thing. Like not voting for someone because he reminds you of your hated brother-in-law.

But the other one, the one who thought Obama’s Muslim … this I don’t get. I don’t get people who pick up patently absurd crap like that. I don’t get how it sticks in their head against all evidence. There was way, way too much coverage of the whole Reverend Wright business, but I think one thing it should’ve made clear was that Obama had an association with his church. His church. Not his mosque. The senator’s a Christian, for Christ’s sake, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.

Which brings me back to California elections. The June 3 primary’s an odd one, in one respect. Most of the electoral junk we’ve been getting has been for the Los Angeles County supervisorial election, where city councilman Bernard Parks and former councilman and state legislator Mark Ridley-Thomas have seemingly bottomless coffers. I’ve been getting three to five mailers a week from each of them for the last month. But the propositions? Hardly anything. Maybe a piece a week. We’ve only got two this time around, but they’re at cross purposes, just the kind of things the people behind these things usually love to inundate us with junk about, in the hopes of digging out the people like the he’s-Muslim woman in West Virginia and convincing them with a word that something patently false is true.

Proposition 98 is the bad guy here, an evil-landlord-backed proposal with the stated intent of “bar[ring] state and local governments from taking or damaging private property for private uses.” Sounds good, right? Until you read further. “Prohibits rent control and similar measures.”

Prop 99 was introduced by our side in an attempt to fight 98. It also bars the use of eminent domain in certain cases, but it does it, strangely enough, without getting rid of rent control.

How will it turn out? Your guess is as good as mine. California voters have shown time and again their propensity for backing crappy propositions and ridiculous candidates. And every time we go to the polls, the media are filled with men and women on the street giving their opinions, and those opinions are rife with patent nonsense that the folks got in their heads and won’t let go, and I scream at the TV and I tell my wife that maybe universal suffrage isn’t such a good thing.

I’m not serious, of course. Not most of me. But deep down in my gut there’s a piece of my soul that wants to somehow make me Chief Voter Arbiter. I’d have unlimited time and resources, enabling me to interview every single prospective voter in the country before they’re allowed on the rolls. After which I would let the people who I think have ridiculous positions, but have thought them out rationally, get their right to vote. But the ones who are just too stupid? Let ‘em stay home on Election Day. It’d do the country good. (Says that tiny piece of my soul.)

Sure, it’s a ridiculous position. It’s really no different than not allowing people to vote based on their gender, their skin color, or anything else they’re stuck with. But come on, admit it … haven’t you ever felt the same way?

By the way … and I’m serious here … while I was writing this I went online and registered toodumbtovote.com. I was surprised it was still available. But pleased. It’ll be good to have when I’m elected Chief Voter Arbiter. All I have to do is come up with the ridiculous lie that will convince people they should vote for me. Suggestions?

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Nathan Walpow is the editor of FourStory.org, an affordable housing advocacy site concentrating on Southern California housing, transportation, and sustainability. He’s also the author of four Joe Portugal mystery novels, with the fifth, Bad Developments, currently appearing on FourStory as a weekly serial.

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