My favorite television show has been on a lot lately. At least that's what everybody in my house has been calling the long succession of Republican presidential debates. I love watching an election year unfold. Maybe it's the gladiatorial-combat-loving part of me.
Most people don't seem to share my taste for battle. Many complain about how raw and negative the process has become. But American politics has never been for the faint of heart. It has never had the smooth and civilized tone commentators (usually those whose side is losing) clamor about.
Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider "Honest Abe" in the election of 1860. To run as "Honest," is tantamount to calling one's opponent a liar. And while Lincoln may well have been one of this country's finest presidents, his Illinois Senate race debates against Stephen Douglas were brutal, three-hour, slugfests. "Corrupt bargains" were alleged in the elections of John Quincy Adams (1824) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), as well as in the ascendancy of Gerald Ford in 1974.
And if we look even further back in history, we find that hotly contested elections began as soon as George Washington left office. President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson were members of opposing political parties. The Twelfth Amendment was ratified during the Jefferson administration to prevent that from ever happening again.
It is fashionable to disparage party politics. In recent years a candidate considered "partisan" has been held suspect of serving personal ambition at the expense of the common good. But historically, there have been leaders of monumental significance who fully embraced the need -- and benefits -- of partisanship as a means for people to stand up for and advance the cause of shared principles.
The only other subject that approaches the divisiveness of politics is religion. That is why neither is very welcome in the discourse of daily life. I think that's sad. Sure, we ought to approach one another with respect; but we still ought to approach each other. When it comes to civil life, I am most tolerant of others when I am willing to listen to how and why they disagree with me. With regard to the spiritual life, I am most generous toward others when I am willing to share the fruit of my life experience, and the God who pilots me through it.