New Year's resolution: Seek the other side in political commentary
Thirty years ago, I got into the habit of consulting a political commentator with whom I might disagree, starting with William F. Buckley Jr. While only others can say if it’s made me a better citizen, I do know that it's been a great deal of fun, not to mention enlightening.
Baton Rouge, LA.
If you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution at the start of what promises to be a very partisan 2012, here’s a suggestion:
Once a week – or once a day, if you can – consult a political commentator with whom you might disagree.
I got in this habit 30 years ago, and while only others can say if it’s made me a better citizen, I do know that seeking out the devil’s advocates in politics has been a great deal of fun, not to mention enlightening.
This all started in the 1980s, when, as a college student with few TV viewing options, I watched William F. Buckley Jr.'s “Firing Line” one Sunday afternoon.
The late Buckley reigned supreme as the godfather of American conservatism, but he routinely invited liberals on his public affairs show and cheerfully gave them the floor. What Buckley seemed to say, without quite saying it, is that he was confident enough in his own views to allow others to question them.
My own political views were unformed at the time, but Buckley’s example suggested that citizens of sound conviction had nothing to fear from civil debate. His magnanimity gave me the courage to throw a wide net in exploring my own beliefs, without fear of meeting minds that might be sharply different from mine.
Amused by Buckley’s gentle sparring with left-of-center economist John Kenneth Galbraith, for example, I sought out Galbraith’s “Annals of An Abiding Liberal,” which I read alongside laissez-faire economist Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.”
What I discovered is that neither man, despite widely divergent perspectives, seemed evil or dumb. The fact that two smart, apparently good-natured people could examine the same set of facts and reach sharply different conclusions struck me as a great mystery of political discourse, and one worth embracing.
I found a great laboratory for this phenomenon on my local editorial page, where writers like liberal Ellen Goodman and conservative George F. Will could write elegantly and thoughtfully in service of two competing visions of life. What a miracle, I thought, that a single sheet of newsprint could include such variety.
After decades of visiting both sides of the political spectrum, I’ve evolved into a flaming moderate, convinced that neither conservatives nor liberals have all the answers. My enthusiasm for the give and take of political debate led me to work on my hometown editorial page, where I regularly referee the latest pronouncements from voices as varied as Cal Thomas and Richard Reeves.