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Claudia Ricci Headshot

Can We Please Stop the Spitting?

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And now, finally, we've almost got it. We've waited, what, 100 years? But health care legislation looks to be a go. It's a fabulously historic moment for sure. It isn't the bill that liberal Democrats most wanted (no public option) but it's a huge step forward. It provides affordable coverage to 32 million Americans who have no insurance; it keeps insurance companies from denying coverage -- or hiking rates-- to sick people who most need it. It lowers drug costs for seniors, it promotes preventive care, and miracle of miracles, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it even reduces the national debt.

But what struck me again this morning is the fact that the fight over health care legislation has in the last year become such a flashpoint for vicious left/right debate. An article in The Washington Post suggests that by passing the bill, Democrats ramp up ideological warfare like few bills that have come before.

Republicans, painting the bill as "Obamacare," call it a socialist plot. According to the Post, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (seemingly forgetting about the far more "socialized" experiment now known as "Medicare") called the health care bill "the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times."

Of course, passing legislation that gives insurance to millions of Americans who don't have it and preventing medical bankruptcies for millions more who have lousy insurance could very well work in the Democrat's favor.

But whatever the political fallout, the Post points out what all of us -- no matter if we tune into Fox News or MSNBC -- already know: that the health-care battle has deepened the ideological divide in this country. It was evident last summer in the emergence of the Tea Party movement. It was evident yesterday in DC when Tea Party members protesting the health care bill on the steps of the Capitol spit (literally and figuratively) racial and other slurs at black and gay members of Congress.

As the Post points out, "partisanship and political polarization are measurably worse today."

Yeah. That's for sure. And the question is, is there any cure for that?

It's not like our modern media is poised to help the situation. If anything, the rise of the blogosphere, and the emergence -- and huge popularity -- of the most strident voices of radio talk shows and radical television pundits is just amping up the vicious vitriol of the "debate." A Fox News channel that tries to pass itself off as journalism, but is anything but impartial, only exacerbates the situation. And the folks on the left don't always help either. Sometimes Keith Obermann's tone and those searing dark eyes of his scare me almost much as do the total crazies on the right.

Moderation seems more and more out of reach. The media, always angling to hype the conflict, the horse race, the war, inevitably feeds the anger on both sides. What comes with that is just more anger.

We can take pride as a nation in the fact that by passing health care reform, we are at last joining the rest of the modern industrialized world that attends to the health needs of its citizens. Yes, it is finally happening, but we have to ask, where do go from here?

As a nation we need desperately to turn down the heat, and to find ways if not to work together, at least to speak to each other in civil discourse.

At a moment in history when Congress is attending to the health of the nation through reconciliation measures, it is urgent that we bring to the fore a serious discuss about how to foster conciliation. How to heal. The message that filled Obama's manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, was that we as a nation need to build bridges, to find common ground between differences. That message helped to elect him. Obama sought to hold that posture -- seeking bipartisanship, avoiding confrontation -- on health care all last year, and in the end, legislation stalled.

It wasn't until he was willing to push the Dems to go it alone that the health care bill gained momentum.

Which leads to the question, can we hope to make real change in this country and at the same time do what Obama suggested was possible during the election, bridge the ideological divide?

It can be argued that as the benefits of real reform begin to manifest themselves -- i.e., when millions of ordinary people can finally see a doctor when they need to -- then there will be more widespread momentum to rally together behind common goals.

I'd like to believe that this is true, at least, we need this as a goal to lead us forward.