I've argued before that society gets encrusted with poorly-thought-out and burdensome laws because legislators want to be seen as doing something — ANYTHING — to address perceived social ills, and (most frequently and temptingly) to Think Of The Chiiiiildruuuun. Hence lawmakers — particularly state and local lawmakers — ignore their oaths to uphold the state and federal constitutions as they scramble to be the first and loudest to address crippling social problems like saggy pants or swearing in front of kids, and logic, good sense, and the rule of law be damned. Meanwhile the notion that our public servants should only pass genuinely necessary laws, and only when they follow the rules in the owner's manual, is steadily eroded.
A closely related specimen of legislative self-indulgence is the "I just want to start a dialogue" law — the bill proposed not out of a reasonable hope that it will be passed, but out of a hope that it will inspire discussion of some social issue the legislator wants to talk about. Once again, such legislators promote contempt for the rule of law — they use the legislative process as a plaything or a soapbox, not as a rule-bound tool for the people's business. Case in point — West Virginia House of Delegates Member Jeff Eldridge. Eldridge has offered a bill to ban Barbie — yes, the doll — in West Virginia.
H. B. 2918
(By Delegate Eldridge)
[Introduced March 3, 2009; referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.]
A BILL to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new article, designated §47-25-1, relating to banning the sale of "Barbie" dolls and other dolls that influence girls to be beautiful.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended by adding thereto a new article, designated §47-25-1, to read as follows:
ARTICLE 25. BARBIE DOLLS.
§47-25-1. Unlawful sale of Barbie dolls.
It shall be unlawful in the state to sell "Barbie" dolls and other similar dolls that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.
NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to ban the sale of Barbie dolls and other similar dolls.
Why would Eldridge do such a thing? Was he savaged by a Barbie in his callow youth? Does the existence of Barbie dolls cause him to dwell painfully on his smooth, featureless groin? Nope. Barbie is bad for girls' self-esteem, and Eldridge just wants people to talk about it, you know:
Meanwhile, Delegate Jeff Eldridge said he knows the bill he proposed doesn't "have a lot of teeth," but said he introduced it because he wanted to get the conversation started about brains before beauty.
The proposal that Barbie dolls hurt little girls by forcing them to dwell on beauty over brains is a debatable one. I played with G.I. Joe dolls and Star Wars "action figures" as a child, and it does not appear that I was imprinted with the notion that martial prowess reigns supreme over intellect. Although I have worked hard to look like Jabba the Hutt. But even if dolls with freakish cleavage do pose some sort of potential psychological threat, that's an issue for worrisome progressive parents to one-up each other about at book-club meetings. ("Why, we don't even let little Dakota LOOK at gendered dolls. We give her nongendered stick persons." "You call your child 'her'? Do you think that's healthy?") The state has no conceivable business in policing how our childrens' toys influence their self-esteem and gender roles. And Jeff Eldridge has no business proposing to use the power of the state to tell parents what dolls they should buy for their kids to protect their feelings.
Eldridge has even less business using the legislative process like a literary salon, as a tool to create debate over whatever fuzzy-headed social issue catches his attention, rather than an official instrument of the people's business. Doing so establishes that he sees the people as his servants, not the other way around — he sees the mechanism of the state as something he is entitled to manipulate for his personal amusement. That's one way that people cease to be free — when they allow whatever disappointed junior-high-class-vice-president types who go into state and local government to use the mechanism of the state like a Twitter account.
When he took office, Jeff Eldridge took an oath:
Every person elected or appointed to any office, before proceeding to exercise the authority, or discharge the duties thereof, shall make oath or affirmation that he will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that he will faithfully discharge the duties of his said office to the best of his skill and judgment . . . .
Eldridge is an oathbreaker.
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