Political conflict can be healthy until it crosses the identity line.

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I suppose tomorrow there may be a brief lull in political rhetoric, but then we’ll be snarling at each other again.

Fighting among ourselves is both our history and our destiny. We may be American, and therefore, by our own account exceptional, but we are also human.

It takes a lot to get us to look past our own immediate concerns. That day 11 years ago was one of those rare times. It was a high price for brief unity.

Pain and pride both can be unifying, but aren’t sustainable day to day, so we mark moments to remember, and this one is well placed to give us a chance to reflect in the midst of a political campaign.

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It falls just after two Americas have gotten stoked up on convention hype and will be followed by an intensified battle for our votes.

The candidates say they are offering us two distinct visions of America.

One party puts the choice this way: Are we all in it together or is it every man for himself?

The other puts it differently. Do we value personal responsibility and achievement or have we become helpless babes suckling at government’s teats?

Well, I’ve gone and oversimplified their stands, just as they have oversimplified our choice.

My reactions to the two conventions was about as predictable as most of what the two parties did and said. One group I’m sure doesn’t like me. The other might be indifferent sometimes, but at least not hostile.

It wasn’t always that stark a difference for me, though. I think it is best when everyone has a choice between two parties that make sense in different ways.

The country is complex, which makes the struggle between different political philosophies a useful way to hash out difficult questions.

People always say democracy is messy. It has to be.

But there are boundaries that have to be respected if we are going to dust ourselves off afterward and get along.

Whatever the campaigns are saying, we need to remember that.

No one is out to destroy America, but each side is intent on protecting the interests and serving the goals of its constituents and its patrons. Given how diverse we are (by economics, region, religion, occupation, ethnicity, race, philosophy), what helps one person can hurt the interests of another.

And it gets even more complicated because each of us is a mix of different interests.

But if you watched both conventions, the cameras panning around the halls probably spoke to you about which America stands with which candidate.

I don’t think it’s good that we can tell who is who just by looking.

It’s one thing to be separated by policy positions, but when the lines correspond too closely with race, religion, gender or similar characteristics, our essential unity can’t hold.

There was a poll before the conventions that said zero percent of black Americans said they would be voting for Mitt Romney.

Is that because black folks have been duped by the Democrats or is it because black folks are smart enough to see where their best interests lie?

Where is the place for socially conservative Latino voters? Or black evangelicals?

The Republicans have built a base that is almost exclusively white by appealing in the 1970s to disaffected Southern white Democrats and then adopting policies and rhetoric that drive away most minority voters, many women and lately even moderate Republicans.

Political analysts already have pointed out that demographic changes in the electorate mean this is likely to be the last political campaign in which that strategy will be viable.

That’s good if it means the GOP will rethink its strategy and open its doors as wide as they used to be a couple of generations ago.

America has as much political diversity as any other democracy, but we only have two political parties. When one of them veers too far right or left, it makes political dialogue and sound governance difficult to achieve.

And divisions are magnified when either party is too narrowly defined.

When cameras captured tear-stained faces after 9/11, they looked like America, all of it.

Our parties ought to look like that, too.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @jerrylarge.

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