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Published: Friday, 3/26/2010

Bitter pill

HEALTH-care reform was signed into law, 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 (R., Ariz.) 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 Senator McCain considers a year of obstructionism by his party an example of Republican cooperation is scary.

Many Americans have seen the recent video footage of Tea Party activists in Columbus taunting a wheelchair-using man who was desperate for health-care legislation to pass. The men surrounding him threw money at the man because, in their opinion, the disabled man was begging for a federal "handout." The incident demonstrated the ugly side of these increasingly bitter protests. One of the participants this week apologized for his actions, calling them "shameful."

Democratic congressmen John Lewis and Barney Frank endured racist and homophobic epithets from anti-reform demonstrators as they made their way to the historic vote. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver was spat upon.

Encouraged by the calculated histrionics of conservative talk radio, racist invective about President 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 has become an oxymoron.

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

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