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Health Care Reform Tests Promises of Bipartisan Politics

Despite campaign promises to change the tone of politics in Washington, President Barack Obama finds Congress and the nation still split over a range of critical issues. Gwen Ifill and guests discuss the roots of the division.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Next, one year after then-candidate Obama promised a new era of bipartisanship, the political tone in Washington and elsewhere remains heated. Gwen Ifill has our story.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Rancor have become the hallmark of Washington debate, so much so that even the president weighed in on the matter on "60 Minutes" last night.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    The truth of the matter is that there has been a coarsening of our political dialogue that I've been running against since I got into politics.

    You've got a convergence of things: worst recession since the Great Depression, people feeling anxious. I think we're debating something that has always been a source of controversy, and that's not just health care, but also the structure and the size and the role of government. That's something that basically defines the left and the right in this country, and so extremes on both sides get very agitated about that issue.

    And so one of the things that I'm trying to figure out is, you know, how can we make sure that civility is interesting?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Last week's primetime example occurred during the president's address to a joint session of Congress.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    The reforms — the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

  • REP. JOE WILSON, R-S.C:

    You lie!

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, who apologized for his outburst to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, said yesterday he will go no further.

  • REP. JOE WILSON:

    I am not going to apologize again. I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that — thank you. And now let's get on to a civil discussion of the issues. But I've apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Although House Democrats threaten to sanction him, Wilson's approach won support from many in the crowd of tens of thousands of protestors who marched to the U.S. Capitol this weekend. Government, many of them complained, has grown too large and the president too powerful.

  • PROTESTOR:

    We don't want your new health care. We don't want any more taxes. We don't want any more stimulus. We don't want any more lies.

  • PROTESTOR:

    We've been mischaracterized as a mob, as terrorists, as racists, as gangsters, when really we're just Americans who are fed up.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    New polls show Americans split on the president's health care plan. And the divide extends to Congress, where few Republicans have signed on.

    So why hasn't the president been able to change the tone in Washington? And what is feeding partisanship throughout the country? For that, we turn to Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and NewsHour regular Richard Norton Smith, scholar-in- residence at George Mason University.

    Congresswoman Jones, you are up there in the middle of it all, so give us a — is it me or do things seem extraordinarily loud right now?

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