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The moon rises behind the U.S. Capitol Dome

The moon rises behind the U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington. (Dec. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Watching the presidential debates has filled me with dread.

No, not for the reasons you might be thinking. That I'm cringing at one person's insults or another's policy prescriptions or someone else's sincerity or another's somnolence. I mean, I am cringing at all of that, but right now it's the destruction of any hope of cooperation that worries me. And it's very much a bipartisan thing.

Because I'm watching all these folks on all these stages and realizing that there is no way, no matter what happens a year from now, that these two sides are going to be able to work together. It's the modern story of governance in America, and each time you turn the page, the next chapter reads exactly like the one before.

Elections offer chances for new beginnings? Not when politics has become a Shermanesque exercise in scorching the earth everywhere but where you stand.

So we get Hillary Rodham Clinton saying that among the enemies she's most proud to have made are Republicans. And from the way Republicans demonized the Democratic front-runner with unified hostility -- not to mention trashing Bernie Sanders for good measure -- it's clear they feel the same way.

You could say it's nothing more than typical electoral politics, but it's a mirror of the milieu in Washington as well as statehouses across the nation. In the capital's war, it's Democrats against Republicans, and Republicans against each other.

The latter resulted in John Boehner's ouster as Speaker of the House. Paul Ryan took over on Thursday, declared the House "broken" and said it needed reform. Unfortunately, he was talking mostly about divisions between his fellow Republicans, not interparty gridlock.

But then he said Republicans and Democrats should pray for their counterparts, to come to a deeper understanding. Hallelujah! Except that the text of Ryan's prayer goes something like: Dear God, bestow your wisdom upon Republicans so we may continue to be always right. And dear God, bestow your wisdom upon Democrats so they can see that.

When the two sides did join to craft a budget compromise -- a process made possible only because Boehner was halfway out the door and faced no repercussions for engaging in it -- some candidates in Wednesday's Republican debate excoriated that day's passage of it in the House and pretty much threatened to storm the Bastille.

At some point, our elected representatives must accept that we're too big and too diverse and from too many backgrounds holding too many philosophies to ever agree completely on everything. One size never will fit all, except on the really big stuff. Like our freedoms.

That's part of the challenge of governing. But in the past, the challenge has often been embraced, not steamrollered.

What happened to the art of negotiation and compromise? What happened to getting some of what you want and some of what you don't in order to move the ball forward? We used to do that. Before righteousness replaced reasonableness as a guiding principle.

The old axiom that understanding what the other side wants always leads to a better outcome has been overtaken by the belief that moving even an inch is a betrayal. We've forgotten the advice dispensed by John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address that we should never fear to negotiate.

Instead, we have inertia in Washington, a cast of petulant players, and a bunch of contenders on both sides promising to change absolutely nothing about that.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.