Thursday morning I went out to breakfast at a local diner, accompanied by my trusty tablet PC and a good book. At the next table was a group of four older couples, probably fairly young retirees, and they were talking about the upcoming election. Specifically, they were talking about the referendums on this year’s state ballot. And it was absolutely obvious that none of them has the faintest idea what any of those initiatives do or what the real arguments for and against them are.
On the one hand, I can’t blame them too much. There are six measures on the ballot this year in Michigan and there has been an astonishing barrage of commercials about them, many of them full of the most ridiculous lies. For example, Proposal 2 would add an explicit right to collective bargaining for both private and public workers in the state constitution; this was in response to attempts by our current governor and the Republican-controlled legislature to duplicate what Wisconsin has done and strip many public workers of their right to negotiate union contracts.
Opponents of the measure have been making arguments that range from the trite and stupid to the downright dishonest. They’ve put out a bunch of spots with the generic and pointless argument that we shouldn’t be “cluttering up the constitution,” as if any change to the constitution is just inherently bad. And that kind of argument works with folks who are ignorant. One of the men at the next table actually said that he was going to vote no on all of them because “I don’t see why we need any more laws. We have enough laws.”
Worse, opponents of the measure have put out ads saying that if the law passes, schools “will lose the ability to quickly get rid of teachers who are convicted felons or sexual deviants.” That’s just plain old demagoguery, a lie designed to scare people. And again, it works. In a state with a strong union tradition, I don’t know if it will work well enough to make the amendment fail, but I guarantee that a lot of low-information voters are convinced by that kind of fear-mongering and will vote against it.
The folks at the next table were absolutely average people, “hail fellows well-met” and their wives, the kind of people who hold the door for you at the grocery store, play bingo at the church down the block, cheer on the local high school football team and spoil their grandkids. All very nice people, I’m sure, but utterly ignorant. And every one of them, I’m quite certain after hearing their conversation, is going to cast their vote on Tuesday on all of those ballot issues without having the foggiest idea what they mean. And that’s just depressing.