As the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported last night, anger and rancor are defining the health care battles in cable news coverage. What might this tone say about the state of American democracy? Columnists have a few ideas.

  • We're Jaded by War, says James Carroll in The Boston Globe. Something is "awry in the American mood." Elaborating, he writes: "Communal depression seems an appropriate response to the massive military and moral defeat that many see coming: redux redux. And depression, one recalls, consists in the turning of anger against oneself. Until it boils over. The most curious symptom of our disorder showed itself when the word "empathy'' became politically taboo."
  • We've Crossed Over From Debate to Lunacy, writes Josh Rosenblatt in Unfit Times. "What is with this country? Why is this stuff even up for debate? Why are we listening to these people claiming death panels and Nazi chemotherapy rationing? And why are we humoring the low-lifes who believe what they say? How much respect do we have to have for differing opinions if those opinions are built entirely out of lies? At what point, in other words, do you cross the line from debate into lunacy?"
  • We Need a Crisis to Act, says Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post. America is at its best when it reacts to a crisis, like the attack on Pearl Harbor or on September 11. Health care, however, is a long-term debacle. "The problem is that this is a slow and steady decline, producing no crisis. As a result, we seem incapable of grappling with it seriously."
  • Right-Wing Rage Is as American as Apple Pie, says Rick Perlstein of The Washington Post. He says "the similarities across decades are uncanny." Perlstein's favorite case? "The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union." At Politics Daily, Carl Cannon agrees. "The first excessively partisan presidential campaign in U.S. history - that is to say, an election featuring discourse that was vicious and personally nasty - was the first one that did not feature George Washington as a candidate."