Let’s consider, for a second or two, the current state of political debate. We can, I think, say with some certainty that this country is bitterly divided when it comes to government, politics, Iraq, the economy and the state of the nation.

The left berates the right, the right attacks the left, and the middle chastises both sides while just about everyone, including me, spews venom.

All of this, in the long run, accomplishes nothing.

Somewhere, buried in the rubble of the deep political divide of partisan posturing lies, mortally wounded, the concept of a nation founded on the belief in differing ideas and the right to express them.

Intolerance towards opposing views works both ways. It is one thing to differ. It is something else to insist that only one point-of-view can prevail.

Yet that concept is lost amid the bitter, partisan rhetoric that dominates political debate in our society. Opposing views are dismissed as "petty" or "pathetic" or "unpatriotic" or "lies."

Sadly, a nation founded on the concept of individual freedom, differences of opinion and the right to stand up against your neighbor or your government has become lost in the wilderness of lockstep thinking that demands conformance without question.

This is no longer the America that Washington, Jefferson and others crafted. It is no longer an America that deserves loyalty from its citizens or respect from others. We have become an America devoid of freedom, stripped of individuality and robbed of independence.

If you oppose what I believe is an illegal war in Iraq, others brand you "unpatriotic." If you support the war, those who disagree call you a murderer. If you are a Democrat, your party leaders tell you to vote only for that party’s candidates for Congress so they can impeach the President. If you are Republican, your party says you must vote their way so we can stay in Iraq, an action that I believe will only result in more deaths – Iraqi and American – which solves nothing.

These are things I believe and belief alone does not make something a fact. Today’s political debate too often substitutes belief with fact, supposition with truth and rhetoric with reality.

Somewhere in all this rabid rhetoric lies a forgotten concept called truth. Lost amid the sound bites, slogans and attack ads is a real solution to the many problems that threaten the very existence of this nation.

I wish I had an answer. I don’t. But I do know the answer can’t be found in the nasty, hate-filled rhetoric that masquerades as political debate today. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I call those who disagree with me "idiots" or "unpatriotic" or claim they don’t give a damn about their country and that’s not necessarily true.

People care about their country in different ways and it is time we all stopped believing that only those who agree with our point of view are patriots and that everyone else is nuts.

It won’t be easy. I don’t even know if I can do it. Like many Americans I’m angry over what is happening in our country and anger too often replaces reason.

But we have to try. Our country demands it and so should we.

Doug Thompson published his first story and photo at age 11 -- a newspaper article about racism and the Klan in Prince Edward County, VA, in 1958. From that point on, he decided to become a newspaperman and did just that -- reporting news and taking photos full-time at his hometown paper, becoming the youngest full-time reporter at The Roanoke Times in Virginia in 1965 and spent most of the past 55+ years covering news around the country and the globe. After a short sabbatical as a political operative in Washington in the 1980s, he returned to the news profession in 1992. Today, he is a contract reporter/photojournalist for BHMedia and owns Capitol Hill Blue and other news websites.