Sunday, November 09, 2008

“Blocs” Don’t Vote, People Vote. Equality Is An Inescapable Prerequisite For Democracy by Anthony McCarthy

So much was made of the so called Bradley Effect before this election that you would have thought it was a law of nature instead of an unverified excuse given by some pollsters for why their opinion polling failed to account for what happened at the polls in a very few elections.

I wonder if a meta study of polling in general, comparing that done in elections in which only white candidates were entered and those that generated what I think of as the “Bradley excuse” would show that the discrepancy in that race was all that anomalous or if only the attention given to the race of Tom Bradley provided them with an needed excuse in that one. Whatever, it doesn’t seem to have happened this time.*

The bad habit of mistaking a category created by pollsters as an undifferentiated electoral identity seems to be most in evidence this week surrounding the California gay marriage ban. “The black vote”, “the Latin vote”, “the x vote”, is held to have split, supporting Barack Obama and also the denial of a civil right to millions of lesbians and gay men.

Well, there isn’t a “the black vote” there are only the votes of people who are identified as black, individual votes by individual human beings. Some black people voted for Obama and against the ability of gay people to marry, some people identified as black voted for both. I’d imagine there are black people who voted for McCain and against gay marriage. Hard as it is to imagine how those positions could co-exist in one mind I’d guess there are even people identified as black who voted for McCain and for gay marriage rights.

The same range of possibilities, I am certain, exist for those covered by the blanket “Latin vote” and even “white male Catholic vote for those with less than an high school education” I’m absolutely confident that some assigned for convenience to that most benighted group voted in the most enlightened and egalitarian way. .

One person, one ballot”, is the small verbal leap needed to break out of this mental manacle, the definite article of stereotype, so beloved of convenient sociological generalization.

There is no “the black vote”, we don’t even have to worry about conducting a meta study to overturn that damaging nonsense. There are people who vote and if they don’t support some aspect of civil rights now, they might be persuaded to in the future. That is the work of political progress, that is the essential step we have to take. It is entirely possible. If it wasn’t, we could forget about gay marriage rights because the majority of people in the United States cast “the heterosexual vote” and “it” is decidedly not there for gay marriage now. “The heterosexual vote” used to not be there for employment and public accommodation equality for gay people in any place. No more than “the white male vote” was there for the equality of women, black people, or most other group identities. But progress has been made and the law, at least, generally is equal for covered groups.

That is the work that remains to be done, individual people have to have the case for fairness and equality made to them. Some will understand it put in those terms, some will have to have explanations based on self-interest, some will have to have a more liberal scriptural argument made to them. And some will never be willing to support civil rights for lesbians and gay men because their hate and bigotry will not be overcome. We have to persuade an effective majority of the electorate, we don’t have the luxury to write off anyone based on their ethnic, religious, gender or other sociological abstraction. We don’t know who we can persuade based on those stereotypes but we do know that we need their support.


The marriage referendum in California brings up a seeming contradiction for advocates of democracy, how can someone believe in government of and by The People but be opposed to their voting on gay marriage?

We live in a diverse society, two genders, many ethnicities and religions and other identified groups. All of those people are guaranteed equal protection of the laws, it is a non-negotiable promise given to ensure freedom and to promote a decent and peaceful society.

Just as the ability of informed individuals to cast a rational vote is the essential logical assumption for identifying their right to vote, equality is the key moral value which makes democracy possible. Without legal equality, the divisions into privileged and unprivileged would soon turn into some form of aristocratic despotism. The guarantee to equal protection of the law covers us all, it is a guarantee that can’t be denied on the basis of majority vote or it doesn’t securely exist for anyone. Equal means equal, it doesn’t mean some people are more equal than others and those who deny others their equal rights today, can find themselves targeted for discrimination tomorrow.

Equal protection of the law, equal access to legal remedies of violations of rights, equal access to public accommodations for all of the residents of the United States is a right inherent to everyone. That is a bedrock necessity, both a logical and practical necessity, for having democracy, the right of self-government. Both majority rule AND the equal protection of the law are requirements of democracy. To the extent that one is violated, the other will also suffer, both equality and self-government erode in an unjust society. A good and peaceful society, one which works to provide a decent life for all of us is the goal of democracy, justice is a basic requirement to get that. It is non-negotiable, it isn’t a matter of choice.

* In other words, racists are embarrassed about being racists and too stupid to come up with another plausible excuse made to themselves and so tell a pollster that they are undecided when they really aren’t? And that people doing all those things at the same time are statistically significant? Though I doubt that, who knows? From what I’ve read, apparently no one. The existence of the “Bradley effect” was never scientifically verified, it remains as a pop-science theory based on pollsters convenient excuses for their errors, something to fill the air time of all day cable junk news. Apparently there wasn’t such an effect in this election.