alice in wonderland

A new NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll asked if 2009 was a period of unity or division. The only surprise in the result is that 12% of respondents actually said unity. (Perhaps the percentage of Americans without a TV set?) Even more disturbing is that at the beginning of the year, a full half of us thought it was a time of unity. What a year.

Plus “division” is a vanilla description of 2009.

Croquet balls turned hedgehogs and hookah-smoking caterpillars have nothing on the year we’ve just spent in the good ole US of A. Speaking as someone who was adequately alarmed about the sump-pump depths of our civic dialog waaay back in the spring of 2006 to go to all the trouble to form The Village Square, where we stand now is nearly unfathomable.

We kicked off the year with a run on ammo given the impending presidency of Barack Obama, despite the utter and complete absence of any indication that Obama had any intention of taking anyone’s guns.

We moved directly from there into the full-force swing of the birther movement, with duly elected and previously apparently sane representatives giving winks and nods to the idea that our president was actually some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, verified birth certificate and fact-be-damned.

Somewhere along the way we passed the White Rabbit late to the Mad Hatter’s tea party to find that we actually have an elected president looking to take down America, capitalism, our whole way of life and probably apple pie to boot.

It’s no wonder that with all this hoo-hah about, when it was time to debate the daunting national issue of health care, we just couldn’t manage. When it was time to bring our A-game, instead we flunked out.

Civil discourse is a muscle and 2009 found it atrophied from lack of use.

Is it possible to revive a conservative party ready to make a cogent argument that has a possibility of reaching people who don’t already agree with them? Because while it appears that President Obama isn’t trying to take your guns, isn’t secretly foreign-born, isn’t trying to bring America to its knees, it is entirely possible that he is one thing that needs serious discussion: Wrong. But the opposition party, too busy poisoning the well with arguments that make them look like 60’s hippies on an acid trip haven’t really cohesively made that argument in a way that the rest of us can hear.

And while we’re at it, before liberals build a hermetically sealed media environment to rival the Fox News and talk radio empires they might want to pause to rethink. Picture Keith Olbermann’s special comments with about 15 years to percolate, and then decide if that’s ultimately good or bad for America. If the amen chorus of conservatism hasn’t really advanced a good conservative argument you’re apt to listen to, why in the world do you think that a conservative will ever listen to a liberal one wrapped in a different flavor of the same indignant fury?

In our current Adventure through Wonderland, we’ve reached the part in the story where the feuding self-righteous and uninformed are playing the role of the Queen of Hearts with her hair trigger “off with their heads” impulse. Its hard not to wonder how far real violence is behind.

It’s well past time we wake from our yearlong dream and put away childish behavior and fantasy.

Because in 2010, we’ve got a country to run.

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Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. Contact her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.