Marketplace of ideas only works if citizens maintain open minds

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

President Obama has his work cut out for him if he hopes to move the nation toward "collective" action on the problems the nation faces during his second term.

From his position in a polarized nation, it will take exceptional skill to achieve any goals in his lame duck term as president.

The president seems poised to be "more flexible" in his second term, as he told one foreign leader, overheard by an open mic, but he's unlikely to convince opponents on issues like Roe vs. Wade (marking its 40th anniversary), gun rights, entitlements or health care.

But, neither are his opponents likely to persuade him to adopt their position by continuing to demonize the commander in chief.

Obama and the rest of the nation face unprecedented conditions, and we're not just talking about the $16 trillion national debt.

Gone are the days when we got all our news from Walter Cronkite or the Huntley-Brinkley report -- who took their lead from the front page of the New York Times -- and tried to maintain at least a semblance of objective reporting.

Today we can choose the new source, reliable or all too often not, that fits our personal biases.

Beyond that, we can cruise the Internet, where we can find someone who agrees with almost any opinion, no matter how off-the-wall.

More and more of us get our news from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and political forces are doing their best to get in the act.

The People's Republic of China, for instance, recently announced that 2 million "propaganda workers" are keeping track on microblog sites to spread "positive energy" on issues in Beijing on upcoming issues like the requirement that mobile phones be registered with real names, plus "opinion guidance" such as social transition, economic fluctuation, food prices, unemployment, housing prices and income distribution.

The U.S. has its own share of "propaganda workers" but few of them gain an audience among those with opposing views.

The trick, for President Obama as well as those on the far left and the right, is to acknowledge the validity of opposing viewpoints while making an effective case for their own position.

Rude, name-calling and unsubstantiated accusations are ineffective in a civilized society, whether they are on national talk shows, radio call-in shows or local letter columns.

The "marketplace" of ideas on which our democracy depends can only work if all sides come to the store with an open mind and willingness to compromise.

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