Ruth Ann Dailey: America the bile-full -- can we talk?

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Every belief, every cause has its zealots, people who forget to step back from time to time and examine whether circumstances or facts have changed enough that they might need to realign their thinking.

And those true believers tend to dominate the public square -- or at least all the channels not filled by duck hunters, hoarders and Honey Boo Boo.

They also tend to be the ones motivated enough to take the time to write a letter to the editor, or to the columnist, to vent their anger when -- mixed metaphor alert! -- their sacred ox is gored.

But I don't think they're the only ones who are angry or upset. I think lots of us are. The general mood is pretty sour.

While sorting through the email I got after goring the Benghazi ox, I found a friend's regularly forwarded "thought for the day," this one featuring a quote from Mister Rogers:

"We can't be expected to leave the unhappy and angry parts of ourselves at the door before coming in. We all need to feel that we can bring the whole of ourselves to the people who care about us."

That's true. And the next step that follows this bringing "the whole of ourselves" -- even the less-than-lovely parts -- is that the people who care about us will help us work through the anger or unhappiness until we find some calm or even joy.

Can you say family therapy?

Moving beyond the family unit, to the next circle of influence, even my angry correspondents usually find that I care -- up to a point. I mean, I'm not gonna pick up their dry cleaning or anything, but I'll attempt to clarify something I've written and come at it from a different angle, if I think it might help.

And in the broadest sense possible, we all care about our shared society, right? While it would be tough to fit all 316 million of us on one shrink's couch, those of you gathered with me right now, by laptop or dead tree, could join me in a little work.

How did we get to this sour, unhappy place? Let's take a look back...

Right now, the economy grinds along at best and President Barack Obama's ratings are in the tank, while Republicans are honing in on Benghazi and the IRS, looking to hold the House and retake the Senate in 2014. Very angry Democrats promise non-cooperation.

But go back to 2006 and it was President George W. Bush's ratings that had hit record lows and the Dems who were seizing control of Congress, gloating they'd be the most ethical and environmentally friendly leaders ever, while the GOP licked its wounds and stewed over slanderous ads like MoveOn.org's "They Lied. They Died" campaign.

And before that, Mr. Bush had lost the 2000 popular vote but won the Electoral College, once the Supreme Court put an end to the Florida recount, thereby provoking years of Democratic fury.

Not only did their guy, Al Gore, fail to clinch it, even with a rip-roaring economy, but they had just endured the petty nastiness of the Clinton impeachment.

But maybe Republicans did that to get even for George H.W. Bush losing a second term despite presiding through the end of the Cold War and the short, victorious Persian Gulf War.

And they were still (justifiably) furious for how Democrats and the mainstream media had treated Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

And so on, back through Jimmy Carter's malaise and killer rabbit; Richard Nixon's enemies list and Watergate; Lyndon B. Johnson's escalation of Vietnam and wretched anti-Goldwater ads.

At bottom, our two-party political system is like a bad marriage. You can dig back through your history and excavate every wrong that each has done the other, but if it's only to assign blame -- and not to own responsibility -- then it's an exercise in futility.

A great Roz Chast cartoon, from a December 2012 New Yorker, illustrated a few "bipartisan agreements," including: "Murdering cute kittens, in most cases, is bad" and "In general, ice is very, very cold."

The issues that divide our two parties are more substantial than cute kittens and the temperature of ice. No serious adult would ask us to pretend otherwise.

Given the conflict of ideas, some degree of animosity and ill will have always been with us. Today's wearisome problem is that technology amplifies them and grants us no respite -- except the off button.

But we can't tune it out or even look away for very long at all, because the stakes are just too high.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com

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