06/09/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Two-Party System at Risk

Columnist Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post today, "The most basic test of democracy is not what people do when they win; it is what people do when they lose."

By that measure, our Republic and our two party system are at risk.

The parade of pundits and former politicians who have appeared before the Southern Republican Leadership Conference attacking all manner of Obama Administration initiatives clearly believe that civility has no place in politics. The memory of Congressman Wilson's shout of "LIAR" apparently informs and guides speakers like Palin, Gingrich and perhaps the most egregious, Ms. Cheney. This lack of decorum is exacerbated by routine and deliberate distortion of the facts.

In her diatribe last night, Ms. Cheney accused the President of the United States of being an apologist for America, for abandoning our allies and for appeasing our enemies. Like too many of her compatriots, she wishes to blindly support our allies, regardless of their behaviors; and to resort to the most brutish forms of a militarized foreign policy. She truly accepts the notion that if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks to be a nail.

GOP attacks against President Obama's nuclear weapons policy laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the recent signing of New START resort to the shrill, 'chicken-little' language of the Palins, Limbaughs, Krauthammers and other pseudo-toughs of the world. All this completely ignores the legacy of President Reagan discussed recently by his Secretary of State George Schultz who reminds us that the original START Treaty was proposed by President Reagan and says about New START, "relatively modest reductions" and "I think it's a constructive step." Further, the criticisms of the NPR and New START Treaty are frontal attacks against the senior uniformed and civilian military leadership who have endorsed these documents. Indeed, after vilifying the FBI following the Christmas bomber attempt, these pundits have gone after General Petraeus for his temerity to state the military importance of peace between the Palestinians and Israel.

No one is safe it seems.

Palin and Cheney have both come to the defense of President Karzai, a man long neglected under the Bush/Cheney Administration. The failure to comprehend the importance of leader behavior in Afghanistan and our interest in a responsive, effective and accountable Afghan government is difficult to grasp. A critical component of counter insurgency warfare is the viable partner. President Karzai must do better and we don't need a 'tough dad - empathetic mommy' drama from the American right wing.

Even that pillar of conservatism Senator Coburn was castigated for referring to House Speaker Pelosi as a "nice lady."

Many of us, and I trust Mr. Gerson would include himself in this group, recall the days when political opponents, leaders like President Reagan and Speaker O'Neill, would share a whiskey at the end of the day's deliberations.

It is just a bit harder to be rude to people when you know the names of their children.