Sunday, November 7, 2010

Poised to Panic

If you’re an observer of the American landscape, you probably know that Proposition 19 failed in California. If you aren’t, Proposition 19 sought to legalize marijuana, thereby allowing its legal cultivation, distribution and sale.

But what interests me isn’t whether it passed of failed, but how it failed.

Borrowing a page from the conservative playbook, the opposition employed the panic strategy. Television ads featured stoned school bus drivers and nurses showing up to work with employers helpless to do anything about it!

Wow. That hits all the right panic buttons, doesn’t it? Children at risk, intoxicated nurses and employers rendered mute by (gasp) big government.

And people bought it. As usual, the reality is one-hundred-eighty degrees removed from these Chicken Little, the-sky-is-falling scenarios.

The image of employers forced to watch helplessly as their drug-addled employees wreck havoc in the workplace belongs on Saturday Night Live, not in considered political debate.

Have any of the voters swayed by this argument ever looked at their employee handbook? The truth is that owing to ‘at will’ employment, employers can pretty much fire you for anything: Your socks don’t match. Ravioli is spelled with one ‘l’. It’s Thursday.

So. How did voters connect this argument to reality? The fact is, they didn’t. They reacted to it. With abject, unthinking, underwear-soiling fear.

We’ve seen this before. Most notably in the 2004 presidential election, in which Republicans convinced housewives that Muslim terrorists were everywhere, just waiting for an opportune moment to send aircraft plowing into cul-de-sacs from Tacoma to Tallahassee.

From weather bulletins bordering on hysteria to amber alerts, we are a society perpetually on the edge of panic. Overloaded and over-stimulated by media and communications, we are ideal targets for button pushing (and button pushers.)

I wonder what it will make us vote for next.

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