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What Really Matters

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Friday, March 26, 2010

Something very scary is happening out there.

The gas line was cut at the house of one congressman's brother after his address was posted online as a way to send a message to the congressman about his vote for health care reform. A coffin was left on another's front lawn. A number of House Democrats have requested increased police protection. Protesters are reportedly planning to picket the Senate parliamentarian's home. Someone took a shot at the Richmond, Va., office of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

A new Harris poll shows that as many as one in four Republicans believe that Barack Obama is the Antichrist.

Meanwhile, so-called leaders of the two parties are using the occasion to blame each other. Cantor has accused Democrats of "dangerously fanning the flames." House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn accused Republican lawmakers of sending "signals" that amount to aiding and abetting the violence.

Enough.

Obama is our president, the president of the United States.

What is at stake is far more important than health care reform, important as that is.

In a democracy, you take your lumps. Majority rules. If you don't like what the president and Congress are doing, vote against them. Ditto if you don't like what the opposition is doing. Get involved in politics. Run for office.

Many of us did not like George Bush's decision to invade Iraq. We thought it was wrong. But I never hated Bush, and I repeatedly criticized those who said they did. As a young aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, I fought hard against the Reagan Revolution. But in the years since, I have repeatedly visited the Reagan Library out of respect for the man and for the office of the presidency.

Bush was wrong, but he wasn't evil. Same for Reagan. Obama may be right or wrong, but he loves this country. I have no doubt that he and all the members of Congress are doing what they think is best for this country.

Those who threaten them -- on either side -- are tearing at the fabric that binds us together. The idea of picketing the parliamentarian, of all people, a nonpartisan professional charged with interpreting procedural rules, would be funny if it weren't so frightening. Have we lost our collective conscience? Have we forgotten what really matters?

Passion can be a wonderful thing in politics. I encourage my students to be passionate about politics, and it saddens me, frankly, how many of them are simply "turned off" by all things Washington.

But like most good things, too much passion can be dangerous. Politics requires compromise. In every contest, there are winners and losers, and knowing how to be good at both is essential to a stable democracy.

I understand that there are many people who really do believe that Obama is taking the country in the wrong direction. They have no doubt. They are as sure of this as they are of their religious beliefs. But that sort of faith can be way, way too powerful to contain in a system in which you lose as often as you win.

It is time for our leaders to act like leaders, to stop fighting like schoolchildren about who started it and who is to blame. We -- and they -- need to tone down the rhetoric.

Someone could get hurt. Keep it up, both sides, and someone will get hurt.

This nation can survive an ill-conceived health care bill, if that's what you think it is; we have survived an ill-conceived war, which is what many of us thought it was. What we cannot survive is partisanship run amok to the point that we start hating each other instead of our real enemies.

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