Sunday, March 30, 2008

petitionary politics

Anne raised an interesting question in the comments section of the last post, so I thought I'd spin it off for its own discussion. Namely: Are paid signature collectors a good or bad thing? Is it a nice way of making the underemployed a little less so, or is it a corruption of the democratic process?

I guess you can tell where I fall on that question by the way I phrase it. And I got a ration of shit back in the old homestead when K. read my response to Anne ("I can't believe you didn't even address the issue of paid petition collectors!!!").

Don't get me wrong -- I am all for employing the down-and-out. But if the petition-collector at Target yesterday was wrong about the contents of his petition, as Anne suggests, it is his paid status that made him wrong: A Marsy's Law activist wouldn't have been so mistaken about the gist of the proposal. Heck, that mistake may very well have lost signatures: I might have signed if I had been correctly informed [1].

My larger objection, however, is that paid signature collectors are a corruption of the petition process. Petitions are clearly intended to measure public enthusiasm for a proposal, which strikes me as a useful safeguard on the proposition process (which is itself an end run around representative democracy if you ask me). Without petitions, any crackpot could waste resources (remember, elections cost big buck$) by drafting propositions to make spitwads a vegetable.

With paid signature collectors, however, any crackpot can do just that, as long as s/he's got the money to send out the troops. Instead of measuring how serious people are about the proposed law (serious enough to give up your time and energy to work for its passage?), the petition process now measures the wealth of the crackpot and the gullibility of the chumps when confronted with a minimum-wage worker with a clipboard.

And then there's the spectre of massive numbers of invalid signatures, which has doomed at least a couple of propositions. That, though, seems like an equal temptation for the paid crews and the rabid supporters.

[1] In fact, I would not have signed in any case, particularly now that I have read over the text of the bill (a 19.2M download!). The initiative opens with a lament that we have surrendered our "right" to impose punishment, as individuals, on wrongdoers (vigilante justice by any other name would stink as much), and goes on to undermine our judicial system in a variety of ways. All of this is justified by the fact that Marsy's mother ran into the murderer at the grocery store when he was out on bail and also suffered a heart attack shortly after one of his parole hearings (where he was denied parole). Marsy, btw, was killed by her boyfriend; there was no rape-and-re-rape.

Marsy's father, Steve Ipsen, is apparently running for LA County District Attorney. I intend to vote for the other guy.


calwatch said...

Oregon bans signature gathering on a per-signature basis, instead forcing them to pay normal wages. It is probably unconstitutional to ban paid petition gatherers completely but you can restrict how they are paid and force them to accept training and be photographed, another Oregon innovation.

Anonymous said...

I am troubled by the tenor of Meg's post, especially near the end. I can't help the feeling that her animus is really more aimed at the "politics" of the issue and an ad hominem hit on the issue's supporters starting with her kinda snippy comment in "Cultural Critique" inviting something--what did she expect?...the wit of Christopher Hitchens or Sidney Blumenthal or Bill Buckley?--back from the G.O.M. Then, though it's not exactly clear that she's talking about the Marsy's Law, and she might argue otherwise, she refers to the supporters as "rabid". But what really rankles is her mean-spirited non-analysis of the initiative. Using scare quotes, she disses the "right" of individual justice, conflating it with the more familiar but distinct vigilante justice. And then she attempts to invalidate the motivations of one of the proponents, Marsy's mother, who had the bad upbringing to be distraught at seeing the murderer out on bail a week after the murder; Meg also dismisses the woman's heart attack (an obvious ploy!) after one of his parole hearings. Meg seems to soften the boyfriend's crime: "Marsy, btw, was killed by her boyfriend; there was no rape and re-rape." (I admit to missing this reference; I was unaware of Marsy's Law until Meg's post yesterday, and though I began to read the text of the bill link she provided, I can't say I have read it all, even yet.) And then there's Marsy's father, the worst of the lot of them, flicked off by Meg in two lines: "...I intend to vote for the other guy" Doesn't matter who the other guy is; could even be the crackpot Meg referred to earlier; wouldn't be as bad as Marsy's father. I think we may have a case here of what psychiatrist Willard Gaylin talked about in his book, The Killing of Bonnie Garland: a Question of Justice: "When one person kills another, there is immediate revulsion at the nature of the crime. But in a time so short as to seem indecent to the members of the personal family, the dead person ceases to exist as an identifiable figure. To those individuals in the community of good will and empathy, warmth and compassion, only one of the key actors in the drama remains with whom to commiserate--and that is always the criminal. The dead person ceases to be a part of everyday reality, ceases to exist. She is only a figure in a historic event. We inevitably turn away from the past, toward the ongoing reality. And the ongoing reality is the criminal; trapped, anxious, now helpless, isolated, often badgered and bewildered. He usurps the compassion that is justly his victim's due. He will steal his victim's moral constituency along with her life."

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous... You need to take a pill or maybe a nap. (or maybe both)

Ed said...

I love how Meg can so handily illustrate that the true value in blogging is the exchanging of different viewpoints.

Hopefully, we all take the time to be informed about the costs and benefits to passing Marsy's Law, before we sign the petition........ or vote!