December 14, 2012
Family members hug outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut Family members hug outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

The horrific events in Newtown, Conn., are in everyone’s thoughts today. 

And for many of us, our thoughts move rapidly to public policy: In particular, how policies we’ve long advocated are vindicated by the tragedy, and how we should push now for those policies to be adopted. For others, the instinct to think about politics at such a time seems monstrous.

Those of us who live in the world of politics should respect that latter impulse. Especially in the age of Twitter, when no thought goes unexpressed or unshared with dozens or hundreds or thousands of followers, we often forget that reaction doesn’t have to be instantaneous. Even for those who must immediately begin to organize political responses might do well to remember that not everyone lives in their world, and they would be wise to hesitate at least a bit before going public with the talking points. 

And yet of course a political response is in order. Politics is, in one sense, all about how we collectively organize ourselves — little decisions such as which laws to pass, and big questions such as whether to pass some sorts of laws at all. We cannot escape politics; it’s everywhere in our lives, whether government is visible or even when government is absent, because it’s a political decision for government to be there or not. 

Nor, as citizens of the United States of America, should we wish to escape politics. The United States was founded as an explicitly political nation, based not on blood or land but on, of all things, a “proposition.” Indeed: one of the reasons that the revolutionaries and then the Framers of the Constitution acted as they did was because they believed strongly that political action was a great purpose and should be available to ordinary people, even when their view of who should be included was impoverished compared to our own. Regular folks — citizens — inherently have the ability, and must have the opportunity, to contribute to choices about how we organize our lives together.

And so reacting to horrific events such as this by turning to politics is in the finest patriotic tradition of this nation. Granted, we can do so well or badly, but no one should be ashamed of taking political action based on one’s interpretation of the events once a decent interval has passed. Nothing else has a better claim of being the American way.

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