Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: As noted in our last editorial, polls showed that most citizens said would have voted against Prop 209 if they knew that it would gut affirmative actions programs.

But those polls were taken before the wide public discussion of Prop 209 began in October. It is likely that most voters who supported the so-called "California Civil Rights Initiative" did intend to kill affirmative action programs for women and minorities.]

Prop 209: "Mean People Suck"

by Ted Rall

If this is democracy, there's a lot to be said for totalitarianism

(AR) NEW YORK -- Californians, blessed with a referendum system that gives them the nation's most direct form of democracy, have mainly used their high-octane ballots to line their pockets at other people's expense.

In the late '70s Proposition 13 gutted public schools and sparked a 15-year decline in public services, all so that homeowners could save a few bucks on their property taxes. Two years ago, Prop 187 made it illegal for immigrants without the money to buy a green card to get treated at the emergency room or to send their kids to public school.

Now the state that gave us Rodney King and Mark Fuhrman has passed Prop 209, which kills off affirmative action programs. If this is democracy, there's a lot to be said for totalitarianism.

"I have nothing against illegal immigrants... I just want people to leave"

Denizens of the Left Coast enjoy an inexplicable reputation for quirky liberalism that belies their historical hardcore conservatism. During World War II, they didn't put most of the concentration camps for Japanese-Americans in Montana or Colorado -- they put them in California, where such measures were popular.

Divisive right-wingers, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, started their infamous careers there. Until last year the citizens of San Francisco, the supposed mecca of the counterculture, chose for their mayor a right-wing police chief with a yen for brutalizing the homeless. Yet we're repeatedly surprised at just how rabidly conservative -- and just plain mean -- people who live with 350 sunny days a year can be.

I gained some insight into the Cali mindset when I worked in San Francisco a few years ago. Proposition 187, the immigrant-bashing ballot initiative, passed in 1994 by an overwhelming margin. The small company where I worked was run by a cadre of classic liberal types, namely fortysomething women who drove four-by-fours, sung along to James Taylor and voted Democratic.

The company's president, an openly gay woman, was active in various politically-correct charitable organizations. I was shocked to learn that most of these liberals had voted for 187. "Isn't that racist?" I asked our office manager after she confessed her "yes" vote.

"Oh, I have nothing against illegal immigrants," Lucy replied. "It's that the state is too crowded. There's so much more traffic, more pollution, than twenty years ago. I don't care if it's the spics or whoever. If I could vote to force everyone who moved here in the last ten years to go back where they came from, I would. I just want people to leave."

After Tuesday's vote, however, one wonders what's next year's round of propositions will bring: Permitting cops to torture suspects?

The population-reduction aspect of 187 didn't get covered by the media, but it was prevalent among the people I met, particularly those who considered themselves "native Californians." These ten-year state residents suffer from the westward expansion's collapse -- Americans have always relied on the idea that if all else failed, they could always pack up and move somewhere west.

Californians already did that; every time they see the Pacific, they realize that they have nowhere left to go other than back east. They get ornery when their houses fall down in mudslides. They sit in traffic for hours, their options evaporate and they get even at the polls.

People who talk a lot about their positive attributes are, without fail, the exact opposite of what they claim. When I drove a taxi in New York, passengers who bragged that they were big tippers invariably turned out to be stiffs. People who talk about how good they are in bed fall way short when you finally get them in the sack.

Californians, tooling around 200 miles a day in cars bearing environmentalist slogans, consider themselves kinder and gentler than other Americans. Some of the state's most popular bumper-stickers read "Mean People Suck", "Imagine World Peace" and "Practice Random Acts of Kindness." After Tuesday's vote, however, one wonders what's next year's round of propositions will bring: Permitting cops to torture suspects? Public hangings?

The end of racial and gender preferences in public hiring, contracting and education isn't necessarily the end of the world; class-based preferences would make a lot more sense than giving scholarships to wealthy black women and not to impoverished white men.

But Californians didn't vote for Prop 209 because of these inconsistencies -- as in the case of 187, they did it because they already got their piece. Now they want to pull the ladder up after them and keep any newcomers the hell out of their playhouse. Californians' self-destructive xenophobia -- many corporate honchos opposed 187 and 209 because they rely on immigrant and minority labor -- isn't personal.

They did it because they're looking out, as George Carlin said about the guy who gobbles up all the good slices of bread and leaves the butt end of the loaf for his family, for Numero Uno.

There's something scary, and a bit odd, about people who only unite in their selfish individualism and who can only agree to hate each other. Even more frightening is the fact that California, with its enormous economic, cultural and political influence on the nation, is often a bellwether of national trends.

Soft liberalism in the form of Bill Clinton has triumphed for now, but as the 1994 elections demonstrated, the barbarians are manning the gates.

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Albion Monitor November 7, 1996 (

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