Referendum On The Referendum

Everyone's talking about the fact that Proposition 8 in California won on the strength of Obama's coattails. The same black & hispanic voters who showed up to support Obama also defeated same-sex marriage in three states. (There's some ugly fallout from this, too --see No More Mr. Nice Gay.)

Most people are thinking along the lines of how to win these constituencies. Liberals are wondering how to destroy black and hispanic attachment to family values and Conservatives are wondering how to win these groups for entrepreneurship and fiscal restraint.

Here's an altogether different question, which bears some relation to my longstanding criticism of pro-lifers whose strategy is to to demand a pro-life amendment to the Constitution. Are ballot initiatives a good idea?

I am happy that the voters of California put the redefinition of marriage beyond the easy reach of thoughtless judges and legislators. But, as Mr. W. points out, the referendum also freed up the traditional family voters to vote BOTH their "values" and Obama. In other words, the referendum undermines both voters and leaders. Leaders can afford to be less responsible because voters will go around them with referenda questions. And voters have less incentive to hold legislator's feet to the fire because they have the possibility of a referendum as back-up.

If there's a referendum, all the political energy goes into passing or defeating the referendum, but there is no subsequent "referendum" on the legislator who voted a certain way. Doesn't that undermine elections?

Mr. W. points out this is the problem with the line-item veto Conservatives want (Reagan was the big champion). It lets lawmakers act irresponsibly by including everything in the budget, and the President then acquires the sole responsibility for any trimming. In the case of the U.S. Constitution, that's to undo our proper separation of powers, but it also lets the legislature never take any responsibility for anything. (McCain-Feingold strikes me as the quintessential example of legislative and executive irresponsibility. The First Amendment clearly states, "Congress shall make no law infringing...on freedom of speech," but Congress did so anyway, counting on the President to veto or the Court to strike. Then the President signed, counting on the Court to strike the speech limitations portions. Which the Court then didn't do, because it's filled with nannies who are also ninnies. I'd like to see legislators and an executive who understand and exercise their powers --not beyond their constitutional limits, but to their fullest extent)

Does the social referendum process improve civic virtue and social character or does it degrade it in the name of "democracy"?