Our state of being

November 6, 2008

So much attention was focused on what the presidential election tells us about America that we gave scant attention to a bunch of state ballot initiatives. Those can tell us where we are — or aren’t — even better. Apparently, we’re not ready to be led down the (green) garden path just yet, for example:

Among five major energy and environmental ballot initiatives from California to Missouri, all but one were voted down. Does that mean that apparent public support for clean energy withers away when the rubber meets the road?

Not necessarily. But it does suggest that any government plans to boost clean energy have to be sharply focused, realistic, and present a clear win for voters, who are also consumers.

Massachusetts voters decided to lighten light things up:

After Massachusetts voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, top law enforcement officials are scrambling to figure out what they need to do to put the law into effect — despite their efforts to defeat it at the polls.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who joined all 11 of the state’s district attorneys in opposing the ballot question, said Wednesday she was working to determine exactly what it will require the legal system to do.

Social conservatism won the day in Florida, California and Arizona, as voters there decided to adopt same-sex-marriage bans. But voters in several states decided not to tighten restrictions on abortion — rejecting, for example, a measure that would have granted “personhood” status to fetuses. And Washington voters voted to make that the second state (after Oregon) where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

That last one is the most depressing to me. Everybody has the legal right to commit suicide, inasmuch as once the act is committed it is impossible to be punished for it, and there is a good case for our right to control our own destinies. But once somebody else is brought into the picture, it becomes more than an individual choice, and it’s on a whole different moral plane.

But if you like the concept of federalism, which says that states should be able to experiment, you have to be prepared for experiments that don’t turn out the way you want them to. Freedom is like that. Still, I don’t have to live in Washington if I don’t want to, and Washingtonians don’t have to kill themselves, assisted or otherwise, if they don’t want to.

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