Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Democracy’s dark side

Al Diamon

Looking for a little direct democracy? Maine has just the thing.

Before we get to that, keep in mind what H.L. Mencken once so wisely noted: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

In other words, a little democracy goes a long way – usually in the wrong direction. That brings us to the People’s Veto, a constitutional amendment that allows ordinary Mainers to block laws approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, forcing these issues to a popular vote. In recent years, it’s been used to prevent the state from granting civil rights to LGBTQ people, to upend tax reform and to restore ranked-choice voting, all excellent examples of Mencken’s collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

To institute a People’s Veto, the aforementioned individuals must get ballot-question wording approved by the secretary of state, after which they have to collect over 63,000 signatures of registered voters within 90 days following the Legislature’s adjournment. This year, the deadline is Sept. 18. To accomplish that, you need a band of relentless fanatics.

Speaking of which, the Christian Civic League of Maine, a bunch of homophobes and a coalition of science deniers who refuse to vaccinate their children before sending them to public schools have four People’s Veto campaigns in the works. The league wants to overturn a measure allowing the state Medicaid program to fund abortions for low-income women, and it wants to nullify a bill to allow physician-assisted suicides. The gay-haters seek to halt a measure outlawing subjecting kids to conversion therapy to make sure they grow up straight. The anti-vaxers are trying to restore religious belief as a legal reason to let kids spread serious childhood illnesses.

These sorts of issues involve muddled mixtures of emotion, tradition and magical thinking, with only the faintest traces of logic. Those aren’t considerations best dealt with in a winner-take-all battle for political supremacy. As William Coogan, then a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, put it in a Bangor Daily News story back in 1997, “[The People’s Veto is] what amounts to a shotgun behind the door – so if the Legislature does something particularly stupid or particularly violative of the public interest, people can repeal it. It’s used with a great deal of restraint in the state of Maine, and it should be used with a great deal of restraint.”

When Coogan made that statement, there had only been 22 People’s Veto attempts in the 87 years since the process was created, an average of one every four years. Since then, the pace has increased with such ballot questions going to voters approximately every three years. That’s too little restraint and way too much democracy.

The four current People’s Vetoes are being organized through a network of evangelical churches. While these institutions will probably be able to muster enough disgruntled reactionaries to gain the necessary signatures for most of these vetoes, their overall numbers are relatively small when compared to the electorate at large. Conventional wisdom says they’ll have little luck at the ballot box in November.

Conventional wisdom, like direct democracy, is a dangerous concept in which to put one’s faith.

With little else of consequence on the ballot this November, turnout for the People’s Veto questions will be low. Only fanatics will be motivated to vote. And guess who the supporters of these initiatives are.

The collective wisdom of individual ignorance strikes again.

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9 Responses »

  1. Al, the left has done more than their fair share of damage with the people's referendums in recent years as well, none of which are particularly beneficial to the state.

  2. Many of these religious zealots work under the misguided feelings that "God plus me is a majority," and "I know how God thinks."

    Onetime Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Henry Knox Sherrill wrote in the last paragraph of his autobiography "Among Friends" the following: God's ways are not our ways and He as reason for judgment of us all.

    Somewhere in the background I hear Bob Dylan singing "With God On Our Side"; a tune that might teach all of us a bit of humility.

  3. Imagine if they could ever get "national popular vote" put into practice, and it's found constitutional (it's not, but you just don't know with courts, do you?)'ll have direct Democracy, all right...just like the Hunger Games.

    USA, from republic to dictatorship overnight. As you point out, Al, we're moving steadily in that direction. Anything "Peoples" is usually a bad thing, and means not what most think. (Peoples' Republic, etc)

  4. Hmm, we seek to kill our past (the elderly) and future (the unborn) in the name of convenience yet we continue to question what is wrong with society, which is built on the past and the future. Erosion of the family structure, the most important pylon of society, so people can be more 'free' has created an empty void in our hearts that continues to grow unfettered. There is little wonder why people are so gloomy and need to be drugged-up to be happy nowadays.

    As for the 'gay-haters', is it truly wrong to want biological grandkids so the family line can keep going? Chances are the kids' sexuality was imprinted on them by school or the media at an impressionable young age in the first place. Being constantly bombarded with confusing sexual messages before they can truly comprehend them is bound to cause changes in one's psyche.

    As for the infallible 'science' of vaccines:
    'MMR Vaccine Licensing Called Into Question Following ICAN's Latest FOIA Exposure of FDA Coverup'

    "...a new Freedom of Information Act disclosure from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed that the MMR vaccine was licensed based on clinical trials which in total had less than 1,000 participants and far more adverse reactions than previously acknowledged."

    "...The MMR vaccine is at the heart of the vaccine debate. The following are some of the key facts learned from the clinical trial reports produced by the FDA, which the agency relied upon to license the MMR:

    •There were eight clinical trials that in total had less than 1,000 individuals, out of which only 342 children received the MMR vaccine
    •The safety review period only tracked 'adverse events' for 42 days after injection
    •More than half or a significant percent of all participants in each of the eight trials developed gastrointestinal symptoms and upper respiratory infections
    •All adverse events were generically described as 'other viruses' and not considered in safety profile of licensure
    •The control group received other vaccines for either rubella or measles and rubella, and none of the controls received a placebo (an inert substance such as a saline injection)..."

    Note this is a Freedom of Information Act document, not a blind conspiracy. So it's alright to force parents to put vaccines okayed with falsified information into their children? What comes next and where does it end? This is about power and money, and it's gained through manipulating emotions and fear mongering. People should be demanding better, but instead they're afraid if they step out of line of the medical industry it will be their reckoning. It's quite sad.


  5. Any means that gives citizens a way to keep the majority’s interests represented in our 'democracy' seems a good thing, especially these days with the government being influenced more and more by special interests. Sure, you can get fringe groups who use the people’s veto and referendum for their particular purposes, but if the citizenry does like they are supposed to...mainly gets off the couch and votes, then the majority rules in the end. Having some means to keep government in line and representing the people has become even more critical in recent years. We are lucky we have this in Maine and it is too bad there isn’t something similar that could be used for the federal government.

  6. @Hrtlss Bstrd

    He doesn't care, Al Diamon is part of Janet Mills fear and hate mongering machine, using lies and calling people names to breed their flock of sheep. If we had some investigative journalism in Maine instead of opinion pieces we would be much better off.

  7. Come on, Al! The problem is not that voters have a direct recourse to acts of commission or omission by a legislative body. The problem is the acts themselves. If something muddled, emotional, magical or illogical somehow finds its way into public policy, the way to deal with it is through our democratic process. H. L. Mencken is not a good source for how to make democracy work better.

  8. OK, let's get real!

    All you monsters and bastards are missing the point. If the zealots get the signatures again (just like they did in 2018 in Massachusetts to stop anti discrimination laws) they will meet the same fate. In fact, a whole raft of cockamamie questions will bring out a pretty good turnout. Just another opportunity to kick those annoying proselytizers in their political shins.

  9. "If something muddled, emotional, magical or illogical somehow finds its way into public policy, the way to deal with it is through our democratic process."

    Umm, Lee...the democratic process is HOW those things become laws. Purely emotional. When there is no buffer, and when huge amounts of out of state money pour in, the logic flies out the window. The action looks home-grown, but is elite-driven. The same process that installs crazy laws & policies isn't going to remove them - primarily because each of them either enrichens politicians, or gives them more power. The policies don't touch them, but bring them great accolades, $$, and votes.

    The representative democracy is the only way to maintain a (fairly) stable republic. "Activism" (and media forcing them to be taken seriously, when they are a tiny sliver) is a major part why our society is slowly falling apart. All the great crapholes of the world have gone thru this process.