In the early 1990's an influential Lutheran thinker, Dr. Martin Marty, affirmed the practice of "convicted civility." He observed, "People who have strong convictions these days aren't very civil, and people who are civil often don't have very strong convictions. What we need is 'convicted civility.'"
The future of any republic depends upon the active participation of an informed electorate. It's built on a patriotism laced with free disagreement and vital dialogue about our differences. It's not built on just "getting along" or "bipartisanship." It thrives when "convicted" citizens care enough to attempt to influence politicians and their neighbors on issues that matter.
Michael Novak, formerly with Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, has observed, “Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work.” Yes, freedom in action is noisy and at times uncomfortable. There is a natural tension between parties that acts like a pendulum--if either party goes too far from true north, the loyal opposition and concerned independents act to turn the tide. So, parties win. Parties lose. They seek common ground where possible. But it takes people being willing to take a stand on both sides of the divide to make America work.
Unfortunately, more and more Americans seem disengaged and uninformed about the political issues that shape their future. When comedians or talk show interviewers take to the street and ask average citizens about simple political issues or personalities, their answers are often sadly pathetic. They don't read about or listen to news about political issues. As Martin Marty might observe, they are civil but they lack knowledge or conviction.
One of the reasons people do not engage in political dialogue is not just the lack of information; they're turned off by the negative intensity of what passes as political talk in today's coarse cultural landscape. Talk shows thrive on conflict; the greater the conflict, the more people listen. It's the motivated and involved that write the reactions to the columns you read, but they often do so quickly without taking time to soften their choice of words or better formulate their criticism.
It takes a thick skin to take the arrows of attacks that come as a columnist or politician. Jack Kemp, football quarterback and politician, observed, “Pro football gave me a good perspective. When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy.”