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JP Grace: Openness to views could yield solutions

Apr. 22, 2013 @ 11:40 PM

Note: John Patrick Grace has been traveling for his publishing projects. This column is an updated version of an opinion piece that ran several years ago.

"Personal responsibility" could well become the mantra of our current very heated political season. We can expect to hear this phrase more and more from both the left and the right, auguring some hope for convergence and even, miracle of miracles, bipartisan solutions.

When congressional Republicans use the phrase, they are more likely to mean: "Be wary of government bailouts, handouts and safety nets. Put your focus and energy into shaping up your own financial future -- work hard, save money, invest wisely, make good spending choices."

When President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats talk about "personal responsibility," they are more likely to be referring to lifestyle and educational choices, such as reading food product labels, refining your dietary habits and revving up your exercise regimes. Also learning about the effects of carbon emissions and promoting the greening of our energy mix -- and our economy.

Actually, there is nothing contradictory about the two "slants," and much to recommend that we, the American public, consider both of them carefully.

In fact, what I believe we need critically is "hybrid solutions." The left does not have all the answers, and neither does the right. And that is true whether we are talking about healthcare reforms, energy policy, tariffs and trade, education, or military spending (or cuts).

If our elected officeholders and we, their constituents, would listen to others with different views with less defensiveness -- less ready to issue immediate negative reactions or even condemnations, more open to forging realistic joint agreements -- we would be much farther down the road to practical resolutions.

Sometimes the partisan blare on rightwing talk radio and television and the leftwing blogosphere, however, are such that divisiveness is encouraged, and reinforced. Listeners and viewers are made to feel they are "wimping out" if they take the other side's arguments seriously. My intuition is that this attitude weighs on our necks like the proverbial albatross, and hinders us from finding our best creative solutions.

Which brings me to media. If you fill your head only with the sarcastic accusatory tones of talk radio or highly partisan blogs, you are shirking, in my view, your personal responsibility to become a well-informed, discerning citizen.

On the editorial pages of The Herald-Dispatch and other mainstream media you can find national columns by such rightwing commentators as Bill O'Reilly and such leftwing voices as E.J. Dionne and centrist voices such as Kathleen Parker, in addition to local contributors of quite different perspectives. I may not, for instance, agree with Bill O'Reilly on a number of issues but I do try to read him "without prejudice" each time I see his column and make my own judgment on his material topic for topic.

Of considerable value as well are talk shows that bring together officeholders and commentators from left, right and center. Among my favorites are "the McLaughlin Group" on public television, "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill" on PBS and the "Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays (heard locally on WOUB, 89.1, Ohio Public Radio). And C-Span-- a national treasure.

Good reading, viewing and listening to you!

John Patrick Grace is a former Associated Press reporter, editor and foreign correspondent. He is now a book editor and publisher and teaches the Life Writing Class.



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