The local paper reported that there was strong turnout here for Tuesday's election - just under 60%. Strong? If I had accomplished that percentage in school, I would have received an F, but we seem pleased when more than 40% of our fellow citizens decide not to perform one of the simplest and least burdensome of their responsibilities.
Benjamin Franklin told a questioner during the Constitutional Convention that the Convention had created "a Republic, Madam, if you can keep it." We seem to be doing a very poor job of keeping it if more than a third of us don't even bother to vote.
Although I don't agree with their agenda, Tea Party activists understand that keeping a Republic is hard work. Even though much of the success of the candidates that movement endorses was due to well-funded media campaigns and the influence of Fox News, activists did put in many hours as campaign volunteers. The leaders of that movement are also committed to work in 2012 to defeat candidates they supported this year if they don't live up to the movement's expectations. Whether this threat will work in enforcing absolute adherence to the Tea Party agenda remains to be seen. Some of these newly-elected members of Congress may discover that the perfect is often the enemy of the good and that compromise is not always a bad thing.
Whatever our politics, engaging with those elected to represent us is our responsibility. They cannot do the job well without our help. That conversation between citizen and representative ought to be one of mutual respect. Demonizing those who represent us does us no good. It may feel good to characterize a represent with whom we disagree as "not a real American," but it effectively puts an end to any chances of productive conversation with the representative. Respectful disagreement and attempts to find common ground are often difficult in a political environment in which civility is all too rare, but I see little hope for keeping the Republic unless we are willing to do this difficult work.