The casualty of the summer’s rancor will be that more and more Americans will turn away from politics. And moderate Republicans, many of whom have it in their nature to work in a bipartisan manner, will feel compelled not to for fear of being crucified by the superfans in their own party. Chuck Grassley, a wily Senate veteran who has been at the heart of efforts to forge a compromise, admitted recently that the protests at town hall meetings had made him more recalcitrant.

The superfans on both sides have every right to mobilize. And no one should have expected that the debate would be polite: American democracy is not an Oxford debating society. But the focus on conflict and hyperbole, in the context of an electorate already disgusted by politics as usual, will only serve to confuse and befuddle many of the rest of the nation’s voters, few of whom have the time, or the inclination, to read the legislation itself…

But the fundamental divide between what is really happening among the nation’s voters and the fiction represented by the town hall vitriol, eagerly consumed by the ranks of superfans, is a broader concern. Someday soon, the nation may be at a consensus on an important issue, and a political system obsessed by conflict may find itself too divided to deliver.