Prop 8: That Other California

Thursday, 23 Oct 2008, 5:00:00 AM

(unassigned)

Last weekend they were selling off some of the last of Bob Hope. An auction of Hope’s possessions, “property from his life, career, and estate,” was held at the Beverly Hilton. And you could go over there and look at the stuff, so we did. Inside the former Trader Vic’s, the auction people had done such a nice job of displaying the goods that they effectively created a temporary Bob Hope Museum, if that’s something that was needed.

Well, maybe it was. The auction display included a long video covering Hope’s life and career, and much as you’d expect, there was plenty about Hope entertaining the troops during war time. And that material quite naturally contained sardonic, “But I want to tell ya…” quips from Hope about the domestic resistance to U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s.

For Bob Hope, the morass of Vietnam was pretty simple: The troops were doing a great job of dying in Vietnam, and everybody who was against the war was a prop for Hope’s comedy. Put another way, Hope projected and (with his show biz icon access) broadcasted that the surge was working.

Now reset your Orange County wristwatch to the present day, and we have new snapshots of that other California; the California that we rarely discuss over sushi until such time as it raises its backwards-facing head, as it has been doing of late.

Last week MSNBC’s Keith Oberman, who is feasting with such gusto on McCain’s missteps that Oberman may explode on camera any minute now, was among those who reported that an Upland, California Republican women’s group circulated “artwork” representing Obama on a mock “food stamp” as you would a president on paper currency. The artwork surrounding Obama included images of fried chicken, ribs, Kool Aid, and watermelon. The ensuing apology was a masterpiece of denial (not the river in Egypt…) so poorly rationalized that it would actually be pointless to reprint it here.

Now, that’s about a cartoon. Proposition 8 is a real ballot measure. Yet both represent the calcification of prejudice and the fear-mongering that too often characterizes the other California.

With Prop 8, citizens are allowed to overrule their courts because, apparently, the same court system that can be relied on most days of the week to know Constitutional imbalance when it sees it must have made a mistake in the case of marriage. And now reactionary bigotry comes to the rescue with a measure to stop the single worst problem we have in California: Same- sex couples living peaceably under the same roof, paying taxes, and adopting children.

Let’s just sit for a minute with one dimension of the “arguments” that the Prop 8 supporters have advanced, which is that same-sex marriage will be “taught” in schools. That choice of language more than implies that there is an agenda to somehow promote same-sex marriage, in the same way that the teaching of certain scientific principles such as evolution apparently pushes an agenda of students abandoning their faith. Now you and I know that what these people fear is simply any mention of these things in schools, because to present these ideas is to ask students to think about these ideas. Let’s boil that down just a little: To mention these ideas is to ask students to think.

When such things as Prop 8 stink up a ballot, it’s my feeling that paying attention to them is often about something much larger than the issue cited in the measure, although that alone is plenty important. Measures that attempt to rewind human progress in the name of returning life to some “better” past are ultimately aimed at keeping us ignorant. And no offense to anyone’s lifestyle, but America walking backwards is a much bigger crisis than gay rights. Especially since progress on anything is dependent on addressing that first crucial issue.

Something like half the voters of our nation perceived George W. Bush as a viable leader because they liked the guy. Something was at work systematically attempting to lower their perception of ability and talent, and that machinery is still in operation. Want proof? Please welcome the Governor of Alaska…

Voting “no” on Prop 8 reminds the other California that we believe our state Constitution is something more than a piece of origami paper for those who want to turn back the clock to a time when America was more at ease with its bigotry and underdeveloped frontal lobes. Defeating Prop 8 is, to some extent, unfortunately about the need to constantly push society to look forward and to reach further. Without that vigilance, you’d have a backwards slide that might result in something as odious as wealthy, presumably intelligent people in Upland circulating juvenile racism.

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