The lonely common ground

Published 9:38 am Saturday, November 3, 2012

University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato plans to make his final presidential prediction on Monday.

Here’s mine, though considerably less informed than the self-proclaimed Crystal Ball’s: Obama by a nose in the Electoral College, despite narrowly losing the popular vote to Romney nationwide and despite losing Virginia. Democrats will retain a narrow advantage in the Senate, and Republicans will remain firmly control of the House.

This presidential race is so close that, even if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t bet a dollar on either candidate.

Here’s another certainty: I won’t lose a bit of sleep over the outcome.

Such is a benefit of life as a centrist who sees the world in shades of gray, rather than in absolute black and white.

I have too many cherished friends — people I know personally to be sincere and of sound moral character — on both sides of the political spectrum and the current presidential race to dare ascribe evil intentions to either side.

The notion that one side or the other will destroy America — or at least wishes to — has so lowered the level of public discourse in this country that politics is no longer fun to watch.

Few wiser words have been offered on this topic than the following from one of my favorite public servants, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, who wrote last week:


Negative political commercials often make us feel like we’ve hit a new low. This election season is no different – flickering, slow motion video with melodramatic chords and ominous announcers. Yes, we might have hit a new low. And that’s the pesky thing about aiming for something – sometimes you hit it.

Before I go any further – lest the reader think I labor under the impression that I am a member of a party holier-than-thou in political propriety: I believe there are plenty with Rs next to their names, dusting their hands and congratulating themselves for the latest grenade blasted across the aisle. Bravo, gentlemen and ladies, you have won your battle and lost America’s war.


Again and again this word comes up. I believe it is a manifestation of a real and serious question held by many Americans — Democrat, Independent, Republican, Libertarian, liberal, conservative, moderate, progressive, left, or right – and it goes like this: “Please. Please. Please can’t you try to work together?”

It is a question I believe is worthy of a thoughtful answer.

Here goes:

The fact of the matter is that good, serious-minded and well-intentioned individuals just flat disagree as to the best course for our nation.

Stop and read that sentence again. Does it reflect what you believe? I would argue that how America collectively feels about this statement will indicate our ability to come together and solve our problems.

Let me explain: Every American knows that we face significant struggles. Our economy, debt, health care, defense, education or changing world affairs – they’re heaped in front of us and we’re at the base of the mountain staring up. On this we all agree. But as Americans we differ greatly in our approach to actually get over the mountain. My point today is not to illuminate why I believe one approach is more effective than other — I do that every day. Instead, I would argue, that some of us — probably many of us — also believe that there is a path of common ground to solving our struggles.

Yet some, emboldened by political predetermination, forego even the possibility of finding common ground due to personal attacks, character assassinations, cheap analysis and rehearsed sound bites. Their goal is to lead us to believe that if someone disagrees with us politically that individual is not good, serious-minded, well-intentioned or thoughtful. If they are successful, how is it that we will ever find common ground with those we believe to be bad, careless, destructive and ignorant?

On the issues of today, yes, let’s disagree — wildly at times. Let’s passionately make our case, let’s illuminate different schools of thought and different courses of action. But in the process, let’s not forget how to work with one another and find areas of agreement.

Together, as we walk up our generation’s mountain in search of common ground, we’ll feel the burn, and it’ll be exhausting. We’ll be tempted to succumb to the nagging thought that this-is-not-happening-fast-enough-so-perhaps-it-is-not-even-worth-it. Yes, it would be easier to settle back into the comfort of our chairs and fire another grenade. Except this time, we’re aiming for something different. And that’s the pesky thing about aiming for something — sometimes you hit it.

STEVE STEWART is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at