A new Knights of Columbus-Marist poll shows that the American public is more and more frustrated by the tone of our politics. According to the July 2012 survey, 78 percent of Americans say they’re “frustrated” with our politics; 74 percent think that the tone of political campaigns has “gotten more negative” over past election cycles. They say that the American discourse is “mostly uncivil and disrespectful” by a 56 to 37 percent margin.
Some of this is true – America’s political campaigning season is generally a time during which slurs are tossed about easily and frequently. And President Obama is a pro at negative campaigning.
But by the same token, historically, American politics has rarely been this civil. At the outset of the republic, political dissidents were frequently tarred and feathered – literally. During the lead-up to the Civil War, Senators caned each other on the floor of Congress. Now, we’re worried about “incivility” when Congresspeople call each other nasty names in campaign ads.
The give-and-take of American politics is not supposed to be civil. That’s why the founders knew that the First Amendment had to be enshrined – if politics were easy and everybody got along, there’d be no need for constitutional protections. Calls for political civility are often misguided. Instead, Americans must embrace the frictional nature of politics, and see it as a beautiful and chaotic example of what makes our system of government the longest-lasting republic on the planet.