Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Wading into politics

Though I am a business newspaper editor, part of my job is to cover politics – however, only as it relates to the local business community.

Practically, this means that I do not usually write about politics. Which, frankly, fits into my philosophy about the true nature of newspapers – that they should reflect, not dictate, the reality of the “beat” in which they cover. As such, a newspaper inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. will naturally be obsessed with the tiniest minutiae of political wrangling, innuendo and active throat-cutting. A paper in Burbank or Studio City would be, by necessity, an avid follower of the entertainment industry, imbued with all the superficiality that comes with covering that world.

So what reality might a business journal in Vancouver, Washington reflect?

Personally, I find our Vancouver to be (mostly) refreshingly apolitical. Apart from a few protests, Tea Party-like sentiment hasn’t really taken off here. And though members of the business community certainly identify themselves by party, they are only slightly less likely to denounce a member of their own camp than the other guy’s.

At best, this sentiment allows Southwest Washingtonians to consider differing solutions to problems, regardless of where the ideas are coming from.

At worst, the region’s apolitical character can degrade into apathy, with a broad brush painting all members of the public sphere as “crooks,” “con-men” or “phonies” – that it doesn’t matter who’s in control because all politicians are the same. I call this a “toss the bums out” mentality, which seems to be spreading across the U.S. in the run-up to November’s mid-term elections.

My only problem with this sentiment – which at times I share myself – is that it represents a denial of civic responsibility one might expect from a teenager, not grown men and women.

We cannot distance ourselves from our government.

But many of us already have. And we can see the results. Slowly, and inexorably, American civic strengths such as bipartisanship and pragmatism are bleeding out of our political system as practical-thinking people retreat and extremists from right and left rush in to fill the vacuum.

So how can Vancouverites combat this sea-change in American politics?

I say it’s as simple as displaying in the public realm the characteristics which I believe define this region’s business community – common sense and an open mind.


Sue said...

Well put, Paul! Along with the political partisanship you've described, I also am saddened by the move away from "for the common good" to a reluctance to support programs and services that don't personally benefit oneself. It seems that there's a growing expectation that we each have the right -- and ability, and voice -- to shape to our personal agendas the rules and practices that govern us, rather than participating productively as members of a group.