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Spanish Lesson

In 2004, it's not the economy, stupid; it's the electorate.

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A tragic week in Spain was brought to a close Sunday by the resounding defeat at the polls of Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party and his replacement as prime minister by Socialist Worker's Party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. A record 77 percent of registered Spanish voters turned out, directly rebuking Aznar for supporting the Bush administration's Iraq invasion a year ago this month.

Spain can legitimately call itself one of the world's great democracies. What a pity that the United States of America -- despite all our current government's flag-waving and patriotic posturing -- cannot do the same.

Why not? Because our country's levels of voter turnout are abysmal, well below international averages and a worldwide embarrassment. Only rarely does an American election attract the attention of even half of our registered voters. We love to preach the gospel of democracy yet have little inclination to practice it.

In 2000, the last time we had a chance to elect a new president, 63.8 percent of America's registered voters participated. But tens of millions of Americans never even bothered registering. That means less than half of all adult Americans actually voted in 2000. What a farce.

With this year's big election just around the corner, what can be done about all this, if anything? For starters, the two candidates could take the unprecedented action of running a series of television ads together, encouraging Americans to get out and vote in November.

I feel certain the money could be found to make these, taking nary a dollar from either candidate's war chest. Consider this potential 60-second script:

Kerry: Mr. President, it's a national disgrace.

Bush: Senator, I couldn't agree with you more. It's something I lie awake at night thinking about.

Kerry: Me, too. Makes me wonder sometimes why we bother with all this.

Bush: Yep. We've gotta put a stop to it.

Kerry: Or a start.

Bush [turning to camera]: You know, the senator and I will be competing in the months ahead for the presidency of this great country ...

Kerry: ... And it'll be up to you to make the pivotal decision as to which of us should serve in our nation's highest office these next four years.

Bush: That's a big decision, but it's not ours to make.

Kerry: Nope.

Bush and Kerry [in unison]: It's yours!

Bush: Our country has one of the democratic world's lowest voter turnout percentages.

Kerry: And that's an embarrassment to both of us and should be for all Americans.

Bush: So this November 9th, do the right thing.

Kerry: Get out and vote.

Bush: The future of America is in your hands.

Kerry and Bush [in unison]: Not ours.

The impact of such a joint get-out-the-vote campaign might well be extraordinary. It might actually make voting "cool" and at the very least would send a message to the world that we no longer intend to pay idle lip-service to the ideals we talk about. And since American blood is being shed daily on foreign soil so that, we are told, democracy can prevail in faraway nations, shouldn't we be making very sure our own house is in order?

Kenneth Neill is CEO of Contemporary Media Inc., the parent company of The Memphis Flyer.

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