The Star-News - Nov. 1, 2002

At least vote against somebody


At last Nov. 5 looms before us and we can get this whole election thing out of the way for another couple of years.

Yes, it's really two years since we were consumed with the scandal of dimpled and hanging chads. And it's a mere eight months since the show of apathy with which only 33 percent of the South County's registered voters turned out.

That such fierce defender of democracy as the United States shows so little interest in the electoral privilege is a paradox almost too commonplace to mention. It's a bit like your mom telling you to eat up your greens because there are kids in China who'd be glad of it. But, of course, there are millions in this world who would be glad to participate in a free and fair election, American-style.

Two weeks ago, Iraq's parody of a referendum returned sole candidate Saddam Hussein, with a 100 percent turnout. Such enthusiasm is never going to be seen in the South County, even though, unlike the poor benighted Iraqis, we're not required to mark our ballots with our own blood.

You have to look back nearly 400 years to the reason British people remember Nov. 5. Back in the old country, it's a date every school kid associates with "gunpowder, treason and plot." And while wholesome American children are out trick-or-treating, their counterparts across the Atlantic are buying fireworks, building a massive bonfire and preparing their best effigy of Guy Fawkes to burn upon it.

Never let it be said that the Brits don't know how to hold a grudge. Fawkes, if you like, was a 17th century Osama bin Laden, with maybe a dash of Benedict Arnold thrown in. The gunpowder plot was an attempt, by Catholic extremists, to blow up the English parliament with kegs of gunpowder placed in its cellars.

The conspiracy failed because one of the plotters tipped off a relative who would have been present at the state opening of parliament. The gunpowder was never detonated. And most of the conspirators, whose names live on in infamy, were treated to a cruel and unusual punishment that almost defies belief.

Fawkes was hanged, drawn and quartered. In other words, he was half strangled on a gallows. Then, still conscious, he witnessed his intestines being ripped from his belly before he was tied to four horses which then tore his body in four different directions.

Of course none of these gory details compel the Brits to be any more enthusiastic at the polls than we Americans. But it has to be said that the right to vote was a hard won privilege and, if you can't summon the enthusiasm to vote for somebody, at least turn out to vote against the ones you find most irritating.