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Ernest Hooper: When liberals and conservatives listen to each other

I love the television camera, but the camera doesn't love me.

It's a mantra that has guided me through more than a decade of appearances on WEDU's Florida This Week, the popular public affairs talk show that brings together a panel of journalists and newsmakers to dissect the issues of the day. I'll rely on the outlook again when we tape another episode today.

The perspective about love of the camera doesn't underscore my vanity, and it isn't rooted in false modesty. Rather, it keeps me focused on what matters most, and that's delivering cogent thoughts and sharply worded opinions.

Yes, appearances do serve as impetus to go see my barber at E-Clips in Brandon. I tell producer Gina Presson that if I go too long without an invitation, she's responsible for me sporting a 1970s Afro reminiscent of Soul Train.

But trust me, if I sit down with host Rob Lorei fretting about my makeup, pondering how many pounds the camera adds or questioning my shirt-tie combination, my words will collide in a sea of incoherence. It's about what I'm saying, not how I look.

Of course, it helps that Lorei guides the show with affable ease and thoughtful questions. Lorei, who also serves as the news director for WMNF-FM 88.5, plays it down the middle — ensuring that both conservatives and liberals get a fair chance to express views on state and local issues.

The approach results in a portrait of civility that goes against the rancor that underscores so much political debate in our nation. And for the most part, it's real respect — not fake cordiality.

In November, Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Adam Goodman brought together elected officials and political operatives from both sides of the aisle for a special double episode of Florida This Week. The goal of The One Night … We're All Together was to not only to talk about the results of the presidential election but to raise money for WEDU. Amazingly, the goal was met, a riot didn't break out and no one hurled obscenities.

In fact, the on-air conversations extended into off-air debates that underscored differences but never devolved into personal insults. It's almost always the case with Florida This Week. The panelists often joke that the post-show dialogues can be as entertaining as the show itself.

A few shows have even spilled over to a nearby watering hole, with people discovering common ground about politics and pints.

At the risk of sounding woefully naive, I don't understand why we don't see more of this collegiality among our leaders in Tallahassee and Washington. Sure, I get all the factors that continue to fuel the political divisiveness, but I'm also convinced that there is more that unites us than divides us.

The discourse needed to move the country forward breaks down when people on opposite sides refuse to operate with a degree of trust. If the only goal of the discourse is to prove you're right on every point, you only prove you're self-centered and myopic.

When opponents insist that every action represents a hidden agenda and refuse to give even an ounce of credit, the gridlock of Washington materializes before our very eyes.

Yet when you can pepper arguments with "That's a good point" or "I understand where you're coming from" and have such acknowledgements reciprocated, it can be the start of true consensus — or at least a chance to respectfully disagree.

Witness it yourself on Florida This Week at 8:30 tonight on WEDU.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper: When liberals and conservatives listen to each other 01/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 3:30am]
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