- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

The nation has heaved a sigh of resignation, perhaps.

Bickering is back in politics, despite assurances from President Obama that America has become a warmer place.

The American public's perception that we're now one big, happy family has itself grown fuzzy. In late January, half of Americans polled said, “We are working together more.” That number now stands at 25 percent, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday.

Two months ago, 39 percent said political parties were “bickering more than usual.” That number is now at 53 percent. In addition, 46 percent previously said the nation was “more politically divided.” Now the number stands at 61 percent.

Blame, at least, is bipartisan.

“If you're fundamentally dishonest, how can you have a cordial, bipartisan conversation? President Obama's call for bipartisanship is the great deception. It is classic bait-and-switch,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

“Think about it. He said we were going to be bipartisan, oh, except for [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi's 770-page bill assembled with no Republicans in the room. The president announced cheerfully he would oppose earmarks, then signed a bill with 8,000 earmarks in it. The level of chutzpah drives conservatives crazy.”

Mr. Gingrich has cautions for Republicans, as well. “They've got obligations, too. Focus on Americans, not on the party alone. Focus on being a party of better solutions. Drop all the outreach and go for real inclusion. Invite everybody in the room to design the policy,” he added.

The Republican Party is not without guilt, however.

“The president's approval rating is remarkably high, over 60 percent. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans trust the president over congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy,” said CNN analyst and former Clinton strategist Paul Begala. “And yet it's true that Mr. Obama is the subject of remarkably bitter partisan attacks from the Republicans. They are whining and moaning and chafing. But that's what losers do.”

The waning of civility takes a clear toll on the public.

“People get disengaged from the whole political process. They become apathetic. … And that apathy is a danger we can't afford,” said Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, a Vermont-based company specializing in etiquette advice. “These politicians have to focus on the problems, not each other. If bickering is the focus, the discussion becomes all about the anger, not the solution.”

“The 'bickering' over inconsequential points is one way to avoid coming to grips with the tough problems that we expect our leaders to have the courage to address,” said James A. Rosenstein, president of the Association for Conflict Resolution and a Philadelphia-based negotiation facilitator.

The Pew survey of 1,506 adults was conducted March 31-April 6, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

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