The Boss becomes a big noise in politics

Rock star Bruce Spring-steen has put his considerable voice behind a campaign to oppose a Californian proposal to ban affirmative action for women and minorities in state government and education.

Last week, as Bob Dole made his last-chance campaign swing up and down the state, Springsteen sang to his own converted in concert halls and at a Los Angeles street rally.

The target of the rally, and the battleground on which politician and musician met, is Proposition 209, one of 93 citizen-initiated ballot questions being put to voters in 20 states on Tuesday.

Oregon is considering whether to pay for alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy, and Alaska will vote on measures to restrict wolf-hunting from helicopters, but as usual the most controversial proposals are in California.

Both Bill Clinton and Mr Dole have spoken out against Proposition 215, which would make it legal in California to grow and use marijuana with a doctor's note, but the voters appeared poised to defy them. Although courts in Florida and Ohio have already accepted medical necessity as a defence in marijuana drug prosecutions, critics say the endorsement of the nation's biggest state would open the door to rampant abuse.

Both 209 and 215 pit the liberal, laissez-faire tradition represented by Springsteen against the Republican conservatism embodied by Mr Dole. The musician has attacked him over the proposal to stop affirmative action for "cynically using this issue to play to our fears and divide Californians along lines of race and gender", warning: "A country grounded on fear of one another won't stand ... It's been very subversive, cynical and nasty, what's going on in this state." This has helped to erode support for the measure, finally emboldening Mr Clinton to speak out last week. His boyhood in the segregated South, he said, had convinced him of the need for programmes to offset racial discrimination.

The proposition is seen as targeting immigrants, about whom Springsteen sings in his album The Ghost of Tom Joad - Asians up against rednecks, border patrolmen, a pair of Mexican brothers cooking up illegal drugs. "Welcome to the new world order," says the title track. "No home, no job, no peace, no rest ... got a one-way ticket to the promised land."

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