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Talking politics

11/07/06 12:00AM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) It's conventional wisdom that by now, we're all sick and tired of talking about politics, but commentator Mike Martin reminds us that vigorous political debate signifies a healthy democracy.

(MARTIN) People say that here in America, you don't talk about sex, politics, or religion in polite conversation. When my wife, who is French, found out about this, she was pretty disappointed - especially about the politics part. You see, in France, they're very open about sharing their political views. They don't usually tone down their opinions for the sake of polite consensus. For the most part, they seem to think that frequent, vigorous debates are good for their democracy. In France, I've heard a lot of politics over dinner, cafe yelling matches, and even some sidewalk dialectic, but I can't ever recall hearing a Frenchman utter, "Yeah, I guess I can sort of see it both ways, so, whatever." The French really seem to think that the best way to keep their democracy alive is to talk about politics often, and at length, even if you disagree sometimes.

As campaigns wraped up for today's mid-term elections, Americans have been arguing about politics a lot. Maybe some of the political discourse was a little partisan, but at least there was discourse! Sure, this season's heated debates felt a little tense sometimes, but it was a healthy tension that got more Americans to talk about politics and speak out for what they believe in. And that's what democracy's all about, after all.

From Belgium to Australia, many countries around the world have some form of compulsory voting, for example fines for eligible voters who don't go to the polls. The idea, of course, is that voting isn't just a privilege in free societies - it's also a crucial civic duty. Some experts also claim that increased voter turn-out lowers the cost of campaigning, which, in turn, reduces the influence of big campaign donors on elected officials.

So the big voter turn-out predicted for today is great news for our democratic process. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press predicted that voter turn-out would be significantly higher than in most mid-term elections. And the survey shows something else that's interesting: voters say they have been thinking about this election more than usual. That's right, voters are thinking more. This is excellent news for American democracy.

What's more, if many predictions are accurate, the future of our democracy looks good too. A recent Harvard poll shows that thirty-two percent of eighteen to twenty-four year-olds "definitely" planned on voting today, and that would be the most ever since eighteen year-olds got the right to vote in 1971. And since this age group is expected to make up a third of the electorate within nine years, this means we can expect more Americans will be voting more often.

There have been some fierce debates in recent days, about U.S. foreign policy, about fiscal responsibility, and about family values. But even if people got a little worked up and raised their voices a little higher than usual, more of them are getting involved in our great democracy.

So, if you haven't already today, make your voice heard, too - and vote.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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