The Nexus of Rights and Reponsibilities: This Week’s BOW Award

November 2, 2008

Did you know that in Australia voting is compulsory?  That’s right.  It is against the law NOT to vote in Australia.  Those who don’t show up at the polls on election day are asked to explain their absence, and if they can’t give a satisfactory explanation, they can be fined.  Voter participation in Australia is typically above 90%. 

In many third world countries that are taking their first hesitant steps toward some form of democracy, people risk their lives to vote.  Violence against voters is actually quite common throughout the world.  And historically speaking, it has been common in the United States as well.  Election day violence occurred in northern machine cities (like New York, Chicago, and Boston) and southern rural areas alike.  For centuries, in all parts of the world, people have fought and died for the right to vote.

As many of you know, I have a doctorate in American history.  I don’t think it’s possible to study the history of our nation, particularly the founding years (not my specialty, but I loved the period just the same), without coming away with a profound appreciation for the genius of those who conceived our political system.  Was it flawed?  Of course — these men were limited by the prejudices of their time.  But they managed to develop a system that was both strong enough to sustain representative democracy over the centuries and flexible enough to maintain its relevance even as the world changed in ways that none of them (with the possible exception of the brilliant Benjamin Franklin) could have foreseen.

What does any of this have to do with this week’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award?  Isn’t it obvious?  I could point out all the stupid, dishonest things done in the name of one candidate or the other over the past week, but really that was nothing new or striking to report.  Same fools doing the same foolish things. 

But as vile as some of the campaign tactics have been recently, the fact remains that we live in a nation that makes all of us the final arbiters of our own political fates.  There’s the old joke — “Everyone always complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.”  Well, people in the United States are constantly complaining about their government.  More than eighty per cent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track right now.  And yet even the most optimistic projections put this year’s voter turnout at perhaps 70% of eligible voters.  Historically that would be a great number — higher than any election in the past half century.  And yet, if the projections are correct, nearly a third of American voters will have chosen to stay home.  

So to all those voters who waste their right, their opportunity, their obligation to participate in this week’s election, who through their apathy or laziness or ignorance take this precious gift for granted, this BOW award is for you.  I wish every person in the country would go out and vote for my candidate, but failing that, I just wish every person would go out and vote.  Yes, this all very cliched, and I apologize for that.  But as great as the promise of this nation might be, her chance of realizing that promise is dependent on all of us.  Democracy is more than a collection of rights.  It is, in fact, the nexus of rights and responsibilities.

So go out and vote.

5 Responses to “The Nexus of Rights and Reponsibilities: This Week’s BOW Award”

  1. Brian said

    “Nexus of rights and responsibilities”- good phrase, I like it.

  2. davidbcoe said

    Thanks, Brian. I like it, too. I might have to write a book about this stuff and use that as the title….

  3. Alex Pendergrass said

    I voted for the first time today for Obama. And as of right now, 199 to 78 for Obama. This is a historic moment. Possibly one of the most profound moments in our nation’s history. It’s incredible.

  4. Terry Murphy said

    G’day David,

    Just reading your blog for the first time and noticed the Australia tag.

    I should point out that compulsory voting in Australia has a downside (even though I wouldn’t support a change). Those who aren’t either politically savvy or interested often don’t take the care with choosing a candidate to vote for that we would hope for. Voting, for many Australians, is a chore that they have to get done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

    I’m very pleased you guys made a good choice this time!

    • davidbcoe said

      Thanks for the comment, Terry. I have no doubt that compulsory voting has its disadvantages. But I also know that those of us who live in free societies have a responsibility to honor that freedom by exercising it in its most basic form. I’d rather have compulsory voting and the problems that come with it, than an apathetic populace that takes its voting rights for granted and isn’t made to feel some shame for doing so.

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