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Let's Avoid Another Culture War

The country can avoid another culture war, but is everyone onboard?

Remember the last major culture war in this country? Clinton had been in office just two or three months before his administration became mired in a fierce, polarized debate over whether gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military. His administration accomplished a lot after that but, even so, the country went on to fixate on a number of similar hot-button topics, establishing for-and-against positions on all of them. A lot of subtleties were lost.

Quite a few signs are pointing to our heading in a similar direction, with potentially the same kind of paralysis and rancor. I hope these turn out to be serious aberrations, but the recent killing in Washington, DC, of a security guard at the Holocaust museum; the murdering in Arkansas of a young soldier by an extremist of another kind; and the shooting—in a Kansas church—of a doctor following the law are not good signs. Nor are there grounds for such anger.

In the last couple of days, with astute columns and debates on these murders appearing in the New York Times , in particular, I'm having an unpleasant flashback to the first days of the Clinton administration. This time, however, the stakes for the country are far higher.

From his first days in office, Obama has been the recipient of unbelievably childish taunts from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who said he hoped that Obama's administration fails . Think about that for a moment. Even before the inauguration in fact, Limbaugh began to root for Obama to fail. That's even less time than when an irate opposition piled onto Clinton. If news reports are accurate, close to every waking hour of the Obama administration has been spent making sure the country's financial meltdown has been corrected so that the world markets stabilize. A fairly stressful and important issue, I'm sure we'd all say. Not exactly the best time, for the country's sake, to be saying one hopes the President fails. Leaving the United States where, exactly?

I posted recently on the apparent willingess of the American Psychiatric Association to consider making bitterness a mental disorder, and hinted at a few reasons Democrats might have for bitterness over the last eight years, given the state in which Obama has been handed the country. One person responded that bashing Bush was "getting old." Maybe so. I'm not convinced we've yet had a full accounting of the mess he managed to create. The costly wars. The inattention to our economy. The worsening environment. The months spent clearing brush in Texas, apparently asleep at the switch.

That said, I have to ask: What's fueling Republican anger these days, and what justifies it? The country decisively votes up a man with amazing intelligence and diplomacy, and expects him to clean up the mess left by the other guy, and some people are pissed at him already? For what, exactly?

Some Americans may find having an African-American president a complex adjustment; but adjust they must. The stakes are too high for the country to misdirect them in pointless rancor, when everyone needs to do his or her part to pitch in.

As for the rest, respectful discussion and debate is surely the best way for a liberal democracy to go: not hoping that the President fails. Follow me on Twitter @christophlane