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How seriously do we take tenets of pledge?

"One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Oh, if only that were true -- or at least more true -- today.

But it's not. In fact, at this point in the season, America's team seems to be 0-for-4. At least that's my conclusion as The Bee's editor, a position (which, by the way, I feel privileged to hold) that has allowed me to observe what seems to be a widening gap between the words we recite in the pledge and the reality of our actions.

One nation? Technically, yes. But doesn't it seem as if we're becoming a collection of mininations, of groups that place their own cultures, agendas and self-interests above the greater good?

Under God? Hardly. Among our nation's foundations is the freedom to believe or not to believe, and so we choose. But, doesn't it seem as if the Judeo-Christian principles that built this nation are less valued and visible today?

Indivisible? Six years ago, it took an act of terrorism to bring Americans together, albeit for a brief moment. But doesn't it seem as if we've lost a spirit and sense of unity, and have become increasingly polarized over everything from race to religion to politics to priorities?

With liberty and justice for all? Most might think so. But does it seem that way to individuals and groups in our own communities and across the nation who feel increasingly disenfranchised?

What I find especially troubling is that differences of opinion which in the past produced civil and constructive dialogue have become deep divisions prompting harsh and even hateful exchanges.

Bring up subjects such as immigration and Iraq and you'll bring out the worst in some people -- on both sides of the issues.

If you follow our letters to the editor, read the blogs on modbee.com or tune in to the radio or TV talk shows, you know what I mean.

That's definitely been the case this week, with coverage of the debate over Iraq. To say the rhetoric has been heated is an understatement; as our editorial today points out, much of what we're hearing is antagonistic, alarmist and absurd.

At The Bee, we've had plenty of calls and correspondence from readers about the war, including our coverage of Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress and President Bush's televised address to the nation.

Interestingly, I heard from people who felt we were deliberately unfair to the administration and military, as well as others who felt we soft-pedaled what they see as deception and dishonesty on the part of the White House.

All of them had strong feelings, and the majority of them were pretty civil in expressing their displeasure. But a disappointing number of the calls and e-mails were laced with venom and profanity.

I'm sure some of our readers are upset right now, after reading our editorial supporting a withdrawal from Iraq. I'm also sure that some of them are angry -- angry enough to be cursing the paper, angry enough to send me an e-mail or voice mail, perhaps even angry enough to cancel their paper.

I don't have a problem with people voicing their displeasure with the paper or, for that matter, with me as the editor.

I do, however, have a problem with the vitriol we're hearing more and more these days; it's as uncivilized as some of the terrorists and tyrants we despise and depose.

And I have a problem with those who quickly label as unpatriotic others who question the actions of government. After all, our Constitution guarantees Americans the rights of free speech and peaceful dissent.

In other words, as Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor and First Amendment proponent, puts it, "Patriotism has no quarrel with robust dissent."

To reach Vasché, e-mail mvasche@modbee.com or call 578-2356.

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