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Bitter pill: The battle for reform was Americans at their worst

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Health care reform may have been signed into law this week, but one casualty of the hard-fought battle was clear. It marked the end of civility in politics, at least for now.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, threatened as much when he promised that the Republicans were done "cooperating" with Democrats. He complained that Democrats had "poisoned the well" by ramming health care through the House. The fact that Sen. McCain sees a year of obstructionism by his party as Republican cooperation is scary.

Many Americans have seen the video of tea party activists taunting a wheelchair-bound man who was desperate for health care legislation to pass. The men surrounding the lone figure threw money at him because, in their opinion, the handicapped man was begging for a federal "handout."

Last weekend, Democratic Reps. John Lewis and Barney Frank endured racist and homophobic epithets from demonstrators as they made their way to the historic vote. Another congressman was spat upon.

This week, after the vote, the FBI reported that it is investigating threats made against at least 10 members of Congress. Bricks have been thrown through Democratic offices in at least several states. To their credit, House Republicans took to the floor Thursday to condemn the violence and hostility.

Encouraged by the over-the-top histrionics of conservative talk radio, racist invective about President Barack Obama has been a constant refrain of protesters from the beginning. Between name calling and accusations that those who want reform are socialists, political discourse in America has reached a new low.

Unfortunately, Tuesday's signing of this landmark measure didn't reset the tone of the debate. As far as Mr. Obama's critics are concerned, his presidency is polarizing just by virtue of its existence. The majority Democrats need to keep that in mind as they decide whether to work with the Republicans on the nation's agenda or move forward on their own.

  

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