The Art of Political Listening

Politics has become all too personal in this divisive presidential campaign. The red-blue split among Americans reaches into homes, offices, and social circles.

This newspaper has felt it, too. Subscriptions are canceled over columnist John Hughes's conservative commentary or Dante Chinni's liberal commentary. Submissions to the opinion page increasingly are diatribes against left or right that neither inform nor persuade. Heated hallway arguments have erupted - complete with cracking voices - over such topics as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" depictions of Mr. Bush.

Just three years after a terrorist strike threw the nation into a solidarity of the heart, how can Americans be so bitterly divided? Can we bridge the gulf?

An eight part opinion series, "Talking With the Enemy," concluding today on pages 8 and 9, explores better ways for opponents to talk about political differences. An article by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the 9/11 commission showed how they steered away from the urgings of their respective party members to look at facts free of an ideological lens. One author in the series asked how a mother would feel if her child asked, "Mommy, why do you hate the president?" (or other candidates).

A number of these contributors indicated that it may feel like great sport to watch shouting heads on TV, but it's false comfort to feel validated by the shorthand of political absolutism and demonization.

One Democratic reader of the series wrote of discomfort with sound-bite reductionism: "I'm not a fan of [Bush], but surely there must be something - anything - that he has done right or at least did for good reasons. Is it possible for a person to be 100 percent wrong and 100 percent evil 100 percent of the time?"

Of course not. The American political field, from the White House to the grass roots, is mainly composed of candidates and voters of goodwill, hoping to do right.

Finding ways to talk, listening carefully to the other's views, and finding common ground take hard work. Half the battle is willingness to accept that the other guy's motives are good.

We encourage all citizens to have a doughnut with a neighbor of the opposite political stripe and try, just try, to identify common goals on public issues, without rancor. Nearly half the nation is bound to be unhappy after Nov. 2. It's worth working now to welcome the "other side" into one big tent of conversation.

Do you have a tale to tell about a breakthrough in reducing a politically polarized situation? Tell us about it in an e-mail to Letters or in a letter to Readers' Write, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA, 02115 USA.

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