AUSTIN, Texas -- Look at it this way. Voting whitens your teeth, sweetens your breath and perks up your sex life. Voting is new and improved, stops the heartbreak of psoriasis and improves your gas mileage. Voting makes you feel virtuous, is your patriotic duty and entitles you, absolutely free, to four years of guilt-proof gritching about what's wrong with the country. Those who do not vote forfeit the right to complain.

Voting causes fat to disappear. Poof! Up to 10 pounds gone in just one trip to the polling place. Standing in the voting box improves your IQ, restores short-term memory and enables you to think of witty responses at the very momentyou need them. Besides, if you don't vote, it will all be your fault.

Voting is a friendly thing to do. You get to meet your neighbors and catch up on their children. Also, romances have been known to start while standing in line to vote.

Voting prevents underarm stains, ring-around-the-collar, carpet odor and dust bunnies. Exercising your franchise will firm and tone both your abs and your glutes, as well as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Casting your ballot makes that unsightly flab on your upper arms disappear, while toning the biceps. Using your suffrage takes weight off your thighs and makes you a more pleasant person all-around. There are countless recorded cases of people whose personalities improved dramatically after voting.

Voting improves your children's manners, renders your dog more obedient and prompts your spouse to take on more household chores. Also, voting is the only way to make political ads go away.

And it cures acne.

Politics is not about those peoplein Washington or those peopleat the state capitol. Politics is about us -- you, me and the guy next to us. Werun this country, weown this country, and wehave a responsibility to hire the right people to drive our bus for a while.

The three great excuses are: "Sorry, I'm just not interested in politics." "Oh, they're all crooks." "Well, there's nothing Ican do about it."

Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television program you can decide you just don't care for. Our entire lives are set into and written by the warp and woof of politics. Political decisions affect your life every day in thousands of way -- whether the food you eat is safe, what books your children read in school, how deep you will be buried when you die, if the lady who dyes your hair is competent, how safe your money is in stocks or banks, whether you have a job, whether your kid has to go fight in a war, who is qualified to prescribe your eyeglasses -- that's all politics.

No, they're not all crooks, and most of them go into politics out of idealism, whether you like their ideas or not. Sure, the system is corrupted -- by money, the usual suspect. But it can be fixed, and whether it is fixed is also up to us. American politics has earned a heavy dose of cynicism from all of us, but the ideas behind our politics have not. It's our heritage, our political legacy, most of us get it free just for being born here:

"We believe these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it ..."

After 200 years, that statement is still so revolutionary people all over the world are willing to die for it. They died in South Africa, they died at Tiananmen Square, and they're dying today in Myanmar. A lot of Americans have died to preserve those ideas: Don't throw them away out of boredom or cynicism or inanition.

"There's nothing Ican do about it." If the last election didn't teach you that every vote counts, you may want to consider assisted living. Of course, you don't have as much say in this country as the people who give big money to the politicians -- but that can be fixed. As an American living today, your one vote means you have more political power than 99 percent of all the people who ever lived on this planet. Think about it: Who ever had this much power? A peasant in ancient Egypt? A Roman salve? A medieval shoemaker? A French farmer? Your grandfather? Why throw power away? Use it. Leverage it.

Besides, the election won't end unless you vote. Only you can stop it.

And after it's over, there's some great stuff out there. Did you hear about the scientists who just discovered this race of tiny humans? They lived 13,000 years ago and maybe as recently as 500 years ago on an island in the Pacific. They had tiny elephants, too! We'll never get to hear about them unless you vote to end this election.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.