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Harry's Gang: More 'we' needed in discourse

Opinions are as unique as fingerprints. Everybody has one, and every one is different, even if only slightly. In politics, we gather together based on our opinions, much like metal shavings around a magnet, with people gravitating to one magnetic pole or the other, even if you don’t share the exact opinion with everyone in your group. In America, we call the magnetic poles “conservatives” and “liberals.” Republicans and Democrats.

What most people are forgetting is that a magnet needs both poles. Without a north pole, the south pole is no longer magnetic. Without both political parties, we will lose our country.

That’s why the demonization of the Other Side in politics is so baffling to me. On my popular and well-received cable access show “Harry’s Gang,” we had a panel discussion with TWO conservatives and TWO liberals every week. The conversations were spirited and lively, but respectable and courteous. We argued politics for an hour each week, then went to each other’s events, parties and homes. We were friends. I looked to Justin Krych for spiritual advice, and he asked me for business advice. I gave a eulogy at Roger Fischer’s funeral, at his request. Barry Bergquist is a good friend and neighbor. I went to several of Becky Hall’s campaign events and she called to wish me good luck when I ran for office last year. All are conservatives, all trusted friends. My fellow liberals on the panel, such as Patty Murto and Larry Holmes, had the same relationship. We were all in this together.

In the good old days, we used to express our opinions and thoughts, and have civil conversations with our neighbors, co-workers and friends. We’d share our concerns about our jobs, our families and our future, and then discuss how best to solve our problems. There were disagreements and consensus, victories and failures. We joined with like-minded people and gathered into two political parties, and the parties worked out the differences, came to a consensus, and got things done.

Somewhere along the line, we started working against each other, rather than working with each other. I think it started with the politicians themselves. Politicians would come home and tell us how much they did for us in Washington, D.C. or St. Paul; and if they didn’t get something they wanted, they would blame the no-good politicians on the other side. It pleased the local voters, and offered an explanation in simple terms to voters who really vote on personalities, not performance. Then, the politicians would go back to Washington (or St. Paul) and all work together to get stuff done.

Eventually, though, blaming the other side became an excuse, rather than an explanation. Everything became the other side’s fault, and the people back home started to believe it. After several generations of such division, those people retired or moved on, and were replaced by politicians who really believed the Other Side was at fault.

Rather than leading by discussion, analysis, and compromise, politicians became steadfast in their convictions that the Other Side was wrong; that compromise was defeat. They are wrong, of course, but those leaders who refuse to work with the other side have permeated government so thoroughly that many things are at a standstill. Rather than promote their accomplishments, they brag about how much they prevented the other side from getting things accomplished.

Now, when we gather into political parties, we’re told what our opinions should be. We used to have viewpoints; now we have talking points. If we happen to agree with a position from the other side, we are shunned. Compromise is a sign of weakness. We no longer work hard; we fight for our values. The other side is not only wrong, they are bad for even having such ideas. Not only will their ideas not work, their ideas are evil. It’s “us vs. them.”

But I have hope. I believe the pendulum swings, and it’s about to swing back. It may have been entertaining for a while, but voters are tired of the negativity and want to see leaders who embrace the good things that make our country the greatest in the world. As we gear up for the next election cycle, I predict a return to a more sensible approach, where people discuss their ideas and qualifications, and less demonizing the other side, less name-calling and fewer fear tactics. After all, it’s not “us vs. them.” It’s just “us.” Merry Christmas!

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News and an attorney in Esko. His opinions are his own. He is willing to speak at your meeting or event; contact him at [email protected].