The state of the Union may be "confident and strong," as President Bush said the other night, but it is also full of people as prickly as porcupines. At least that's my impression based on responses to my Jan. 29 column, "Bridging the Great Divide."
First, the good side. E-mailers and letter writers seemed to agree that the country has pronounced political and ideological schisms. They were concerned about incivility and agreed that the tussle over policy would benefit from debate based on mutual respect, careful listening and honest dialogue. And all but a few saw the need to bridge political differences and bring more inclusiveness to government, given the serious domestic and international problems the country faces. But when the discussion turned to the causes of polarization, folks on both the left and right fled the common ground, abandoning any pretense of interest in the other side's point of view.
Mind you, they all acknowledged the existence of a great divide. But consider the reasons they offered:
"The people who control conservative radio and talk shows . . . continually bash everything wrong in America with the word 'liberal.'. . . In the past election, one can see that the liberal-bashing is effective and can help win elections." -- S.S. and S.G., Ohio
"I just hope the liberal press takes this to heart and realizes that they are the major source of this problem. Their constant battering of Bush, calling him a liar, dumb, stupid, has been a large part of this problem." -- J.S., Florida
"Your efforts should be directed at the likes of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Carl Levin, Patrick Leahy and all the other extreme left-wing fanatics of the Democratic Party. . . . THEY are the ones refusing bipartisanship, Mr. King, face it." -- B.F., Indiana
"I think the originating problem of all this division is Bush. . . .[He] is like a big waving red flag in front of a bull. He has really got half of us boiling mad." -- S.W., Oklahoma
"I fear that any overt call to civility and unity will be manipulated by the GOP into what it was post 9/11: you must support the agenda of Bush or be labeled a spoiler or worse." -- E.L., Massachusetts
"The [Democratic Party] needs to inflame its base with tales of lying, torturing, doing away with civil liberties, disenfranchisement, starving children, being intolerant, racist, sexist, anti-gay, anti-senior citizens, warmongers, Christian terrorists. . . . How do you begin a civil dialog with this mind-set? Liberals do not want civility; they want power. And will do and say anything to achieve that goal." -- E.M., California
"A return to civility in our American politics depends on both parties. Too often what happens is that Democrats give in to the media's calls for civility and Republicans do not. Democrats cannot, and should not, satisfy the media's cry for civility if Republicans are not willing to also be civil and listen." -- J.K., address unknown