For several months California's Proposition 19 appeared headed for victory. That it lost yesterday is a tribute not only to youth-voter impassivity but to the power of ignorance and coercion. And, yes, to the political pull of a disparate handful of fear-mongering prohibitionists.
In the weeks ahead, analysts will dissect the particular causes of the initiative's setback:
Cynical actions, like Governor Schwarzenegger's last-minute "decriminalization" of minor pot possession, giving many of the state's voters the false impression that the governor somehow "solved" the law enforcement/public safety problem, undercut the cartels, and saved the state a bundle of money (it does none of these things);
The effete but politically effective saber-rattling of the nation's attorney general, with his patently undeliverable threat to sic the feds on Californians who dared to behave at the polls as free, responsible Americans;
The state's senior senator, and official No-on-19 cheerleader, who took money from the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit, money-making machine that benefits handsomely from marijuana prohibition;
Most other California politicians currently running for office or coveting one in the future, who, had they expressed their true feelings and allowed intellectual honesty and courage to trump blind ambition, would more likely than not have delivered the winning margin;
And, of course, the young, overwhelmingly pro-legalization voters who yesterday stayed away in droves and who are today kicking, or should be kicking, themselves;
But supporters of Proposition 19, especially its inspiration and driving force, Richard Lee, should take heart.
Having rendered the anti-prohibition argument fit for serious conversation in mainstream social circles, and having won countless converts, we can now look forward to a new and improved campaign in 2012. And not just in California but in Washington, Oregon, Colorado...