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Our View: Is this how we'll solve our problems?

If you were looking for a microcosm of the strained and heated nature of contemporary American politics, you needed look no further than Woodbury.

At a town hall meeting on Saturday, March 9, Woodbury residents sat down with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, state Sen. Susan Kent, along with state House members Andrea Kieffer and JoAnn Ward.

The meeting was billed generically as a discussion. As if to imply it would be civil.

What participants experienced during one portion was anything but, according to video clips circulating the Internet following the meeting.

The video depicts McCollum, a Democrat who represents Woodbury in Minnesota's 4th Congressional District, giving a description of federal sequester cuts to the audience. After a certain point, one audience member decided he'd heard enough and called out, "We don't want your lies!"

With others chiming in, McCollum went on the attack in an apparent effort to snuff out hecklers. Disgruntled attendees became vocal in their frustration, with some getting up to leave. It wasn't until Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens jumped up and reset the format that the boil turned to a simmer.

The discord was a scene right out of the rowdy town hall meetings of 2009 when health care was the flashpoint, and a reminder that all is not well in Washington - or among constituents.

Still, there's something unsettling about the tone conveyed at Saturday's meeting. When a grievance turns over to surly mob, we lose the civility that engenders the most productive public discourse. And where does that get us?

McCollum also bears culpability from the fracas. Instead of summoning composure as tensions raised, she stoked the flames by wading into the crowd and hollering back at her hecklers. While we applaud her for standing up to her critics, we would hope for greater composure from our congresswoman.

When we consider how that scene comprised a microcosm of what's happening in Washington, it becomes all the more discouraging for those of us hoping for solutions.

The ugliness is proof we have a long way to go.