I think Mark Steyn is on to something very important in this piece.
A year before this next election in the U.S., the common space required for civil debate and civilized disagreement has shrivelled to a very thin sliver of ground. Politics requires a minimum of shared assumptions. To compete you have to be playing the same game: you can't thwack the ball back and forth if one of you thinks he's playing baseball and the other fellow thinks he's playing badminton. Likewise, if you want to discuss the best way forward in the war on terror, you can't do that if the guy you're talking to doesn't believe there is a war on terror, only a racket cooked up by the Bushitler and the rest of the Halliburton stooges as a pretext to tear up the constitution.
Now it would be unfair to point fingers only at the loony left here. It wasn't so long ago that conspiracy theories involving Bill Clinton were all the rage, with some whack-jobs claiming that the Murrah Building was Bill-deberger's "Reichstag Fire," to name but one in the litany of his alleged crimes (which, if true, would have left him with precious little time for the ladies). The problem is that the fever wasn't cured, it simply shifted to the left temple, with the Semtex Fairy getting a promotion from OKC to NYC.
But that's nothing to celebrate. I have every confidence that anti-Clinton paranoia will return in full flower should Hillary! get elected. Bank on it.
The question Steyn never quite gets around to asking is "Why?"
I have a partial answer: for the more secular-minded, politics is now invested with the religious fervor that used to go into religion. Politics has become a self-contained system of belief, with its own creed, liturgy, calendar of saints and diabolical enemies with sinister plans. And, as a religion, it is not one of Unitarian stolidity. It is a fighting, evangelistic faith. Check the latest Ann Coulter or Paul Krugman books and you'll see what I mean. Kill all--God will know his own.
I'm not exactly immune to this, but anymore I only get really revved up when there's some Catholic intersection with politics. I dislike Mrs. Clinton, but she doesn't bother me like John Kerry did. Or Rudy Giuliani does.
I even have a preferred candidate for President (McCain), but you didn't know that until just now. If he doesn't pull it off, I'm not going to require a mental health day. I don't have that much invested in him. I try to reserve that commitment for my faith. Frankly, I think that trying to approach politics and religion with anything like the same fervor invariably damages the latter. And for those who don't have much of a commitment to the latter, the former becomes unbalanced.
Unfortunately, I think the problem is going to get much worse before it begins to get better.