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GREG HARTON: Can nation find its way to the center?

by Greg Harton | January 24, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

People like me probably drive hardcore Democrats and Republicans crazy. Maybe even the devoted Libertarians.

When you have strong leanings toward either side of the political spectrum -- conservative or liberal -- I would imagine it's hard to fathom the people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but voted for Joe Biden last November.

Yep. That's me.

For some people, that's just waffling. And baffling.

It might just be a professional hazard. Before I moved into a position with the newspaper that involves the expression of opinions on our editorial pages or in a column like this one, I was a news reporter. I covered municipal and county governments as well as state and community issues.

New reporters have opinions, but their jobs and their training, and the editing process that involves other trained journalists, work together to produce news reporting free of biases, at least as much as humanly possible. The goal is accuracy and fairness, within the constraints of available interviews and facts. Facts and interviews that can't be obtained today can be pursued further tomorrow, but sometimes the news demands publishing based on what one knows at deadline.

In that reporting role, it didn't matter, to me or to the issue, whether a person was a Republican or a Democrat. It really just mattered whether they had anything to contribute to any potential solutions. To this day, I don't know that a problem was ever solved by someone solely being a Democrat or a Republican as much as by a person who simply brought a good idea to the table and was willing to work to make it happen.

It was a bonus if they were good for a terrific quote.

When your profession demands that you speak with people of different backgrounds, who approach issues from different perspectives, it seemed easy to me to conclude that everyone has something to contribute, that having a GOP or a Democratic Party sticker on one's car doesn't limit one's possibilities or guarantee one's brilliance.

And, like many readers, I wish the folks in Washington, D.C., would use fewer unnamed sources. When someone puts their name to information they're providing, they tend to behave more responsibly. I'm just an Arkansas reporter, but I can't remember ever using an unnamed source. Maybe I did, but it wouldn't add up to more than once or twice.

In my personal perspective, I think I tend to lean conservative, but not so much that I could pass the litmus tests of a lot of Republicans. For some of them, it seems just "leaning" conservative is tantamount to being liberal. Depending on the issue, it's much the same among some of the Democrats.

Donald Trump, though, was a train wreck. Even when I agreed with the goal of some policy, his leadership as the nation's president -- such frequent lies, an inability to appreciate facts and apply them to the issues facing the nation, the constant stirring of emotions -- simply did too much collateral damage.

I will not like all of Joe Biden's policy decisions. That's true already. But it's far more likely he'll seek out some common ground involving Democrats and Republicans. If both sides can operate less from their extremes, common ground for the good of the nation might just be possible.

The question I keep pondering is how do we reverse the gravitational pull of the extremes and return toward some political moderation where so much can be accomplished? I don't know that answer yet. But I'm fairly certain it's not going to be discovered on the fringes.

And I know the answer wasn't four more years of Donald Trump. I do hope, though, that it can be a combination of sensible Democrats and Republicans in the years ahead.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.


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