What happened to robust and good debate?
I cringed the other day during a newsroom discussion.
Primary election season is right around the corner.
As if that’s not bad enough, somehow it’s about to be campaign season for — brace yourself — the next presidential election.
That is what triggered the cringe.
You see, with national elections emerge angry Americans, even uglier-than-usual social media posts and, yes, angry readers who soon will be firing off emails to the newsroom and ringing my office phone. They will insist this newspaper is far, far too left. Or others will argue we are way, way too far right.
We’ll be accused of giving the Democratic candidate — we’re all wondering if it will be Joe Biden — too much love. Or I’ll be accused of playing favorites with the Republican candidate — Donald Trump or whoever else it might be in the long run.
Alternately, readers will call us radical liberals or extreme right wingers.
You see, political coverage is in the eye of the beholder. And no matter how hard we try to remain neutral on our news pages, perceptions will vary.
Someone asked me once if, as a journalist, I count election season as the most wonderful time of the year.
Hard no. Truly, these days, only a masochist might think that.
I will say this, though.
To a very large degree, a nation divided in beliefs and political position really is OK. Strong discourse and robust debate are critical parts of making important decisions affecting our present and our future.
Americans are encouraged to be free thinkers. There is no one correct approach to political issues. That’s what makes America great.
But the coinciding bickering and childishness are the problem, along with hate-filled division and refusal to compromise. I’m most bothered when I hear good, strong arguments that make sense, yet they are ignored in favor of weaker decisions because elected officials couldn’t possibly compromise.
Take recent activity in the Ohio House, for instance.
Some Columbus Republicans are angry because, despite their party’s supermajority control, the candidate most GOP backed for Speaker lost when a deal was cut between some House Republicans and House Democrats.
State Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, was going to be the next House Speaker until state Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, and his backers came together with House Democrats, winning Stephens the Speakership.
Merrin, clearly still stinging from the loss, recently said, “there’s a lot of people right now who don’t feel like they have a voice. Because the Democrats elected the speaker of the House.”
That’s not exactly true. Stephens was elected 54-43; 32 House Democrats supporting Stephens wouldn’t have been enough to elect him without 22 Republicans who joined them in voting against Merrin.
So, in an act of either defiance or vengeance, last week Merrin backers made Merrin the official leader of the House Republican Caucus and its campaign arm.
Heaven forbid a Speaker work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle!
Undoubtedly, if Merrin’s backers remain obstinate, this could become a very long session for Ohio lawmakers — and for Ohioans.
Time will tell if the sides can find a way to, yes, compromise.
A reader recently sent me this item clipped from our newspaper’s print edition published in September in the syndicated advice column of Dear Annie:
“The attacks of Sept. 11 were intended to break our spirit. Instead, we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in Freedom.”
• Rudy Giuliani
I already can feel your reaction.
As you read those four sentences, you probably felt a quick sense of pride for our unified strength as Americans.
Then, as you moved on to the source of the statement, former White House adviser to President Donald Trump Rudy Giuliani, you probably rolled your eyes. You might even have scoffed.
The source of the statement, no doubt, changed your attitude on what was said.
The reader who sent the clipping attached a very simple question.
“What happened?” she wrote.
Indeed. What happened?