To some extent, getting people riled up is the goal of political writing. Opinions and discussions should be exciting, forceful, and most of all, persuasive. You want to motivate like-minded individuals to support whatever cause you’re writing about and draw readers into the drama of the struggle. Additionally, you want to make your opponents reconsider their own viewpoints or, at the very least, start a discussion with you. But how do you write politically without coming off as, for lack of a better word, a jerk?
As we come ever closer to the divisive and heated shouting match that the 2012 presidential race promises to be, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a way to express one’s views on politics – in print, on the Internet, or just to one’s friends – in a rational, level-headed way. Political blogs (of all stripes, shapes and sizes) traffic in pageviews and hit-counts, and tailor their headlines to achieve those goals. What results is often a sea of overblown and under-researched opinions, presented as objective truth.
Political opinions run very deep in a lot of people (and even more so for people on the Internet), and sometimes all that political discussion seems to achieve is a lot of hurt feelings. We get angry, we get defensive, and then we write without thinking. Will it ever change? Isn’t there more to political writing than mud slinging and handwringing over the decline of the whole country? Can we still have a civil and inclusive debate on issues that affect us all?
A good political writer, to my mind, can rise above the tides of tirades and present their argument clearly and in the least incendiary fashion possible. When you’re really committed to a cause, it can be hard to write with restraint, but proper organization and prewriting can help. For one thing, think through what you’re going to say before you say it. Sketch it out, get your facts straight, and consider how your readers will receive what you have to say. Are you respecting them as readers? Does your writing leave room for argumentation, or is it simply a screed in an echo chamber?
Look at your motives for writing politically, and be up front about those motives. If you get your biases out in the open from the start, readers will respect your writing more and actually listen to your ideas before judging them.
If you’re sharing your ideas in a public forum, expect dissent! Disagreement and diverse viewpoints are the hallmarks of the 1st Amendment, so show some courtesy to your readers and respond to opposing views with dignity and sanity.
Finally, know when to back down. It’s difficult, but if you keep a cool head, you will know when to let an argument be and “agree to disagree.” You’re not going to be able to convince everyone.
It’s difficult, but I believe it’s possible. To stay silent or give up isn’t the answer. There’s no need to censor yourself – you’re an opinionated writer and you have a stake in politics, so stick to your guns! Apathy is dangerous in today’s political climate, so stay active and keep writing. Just consider the effect of your words before you respond to that forum post.