Most people, most of the time, lead lives removed from political and ideological engagement. Family, work, health, sports, and entertainment define what is generally held to be a normal life.
It is also in our national DNA to believe that we are entitled—indeed, obligated—to have a loud voice in the conduct of our government. Isn’t that what our Founding Fathers, and our American ethos, require? Yet we vote at a measurably lower rate than the citizens of most other democracies (although, as their lives improve, they tend to emulate us in this regard). Nor do we generally define ourselves, like most of our counterparts elsewhere, as belonging to the political Left or Right. Indeed, even our traditional Democratic-Republican identities are eroding. A growing plurality of Americans finds comfort in the Independent/non-partisan label.
In sum, we have convinced ourselves that in theory we are engaged citizens, while in fact most of us are the self-family-sports-media-obsessed folk that polling tells us we are. But not all of us, all the time. A substantial number of Americans claim some identity with regard to public life. A fifth of us are ready to say we are liberals; close to twice as many identify themselves as conservatives.
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