Last night, re-elected President Obama put into words a defense for a true and vital attribute of democracy: politics. He spoke of how cynics “tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests”, yet people in various corners of the world are risking their lives “just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter.”
Amidst the debates and arguments of our time, that so often seem lethally polarizing and exacerbated by ratings-driven punditry, we must remember that that in and of itself is what people in Egypt fought for, what people in Syria are dying for, what people in China yearn for, and what people in America are grateful for having. The freedom to give voice to your thoughts and to campaign for your causes is at democracy’s very core.
Politics is defined as the activities associated with the governance of a country or area. In a democracy, citizens advocate issues and organize efforts to promote campaigns as means to the end goal of self-government. As President Obama reminded us last night, this is the principle America was founded on.
Points of views on major issues often involve deeply held beliefs and unyielding convictions. The arguments that arise from a clash of conflicting convictions can take upon a particularly divisive narrative. That narrative can be manipulated, twisted, and distorted. It can create a mood of fear, pessimism, and at times invoke hate and anger. Politicians can exploit such an environment for personal gain. It can be easy to fall prey to cynicism and distrust when one loses sight of the fact deeply intense argument and a clash of ideals is not a threat to liberty, but is a mark of liberty.
“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”
Politics in a democracy based on self-government is indeed a mark of liberty. Whether or not it is true that politics in the United States is more polarized than it has ever been, the example shown last night by Governor Romney’s graceful concession speech reminds us that at the end of the day, at the end of a long and hard political battle fueled by passionate debate over conflicting ideology, the United States is still united. Moments later, in President Obama’s victory speech, he again reminds us that such a long and hard political battle helps perfect our union.
When I look at countries around the world like Egypt that are grappling with their politics and their environments for disagreement, I encourage them to keep in mind how argument is in fact a mark of liberty. As President Obama said last night: “That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important.”