Opinion | Paul Olson: Reconsidering our opinions

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Each of us is faced with many decisions and the ability to mentally juggle conflicting arguments effectively can make a huge difference in our success and happiness. Should I go to college or be a ski bum for a year? Should I buy a house in Leadville or rent in Frisco?

Could the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the first-rate intelligence to analyze the two or 10 sides to the complex social and economic problems we face and realize that desperately clinging to extreme positions is bad for America? Could they visualize the balanced budget that could be reached with reasonable tax increases and spending cuts? Could they do the mental gymnastics to agree on an immigration policy that is optimal for our economy and is fair to taxpayers and immigrants? The truth is often in the middle, but it cannot be found without considering alternatives to one’s own opinions.

Hoping to see some truth-seekers, I optimistically tuned into the Aug. 23 Republican presidential debate. The eight candidates on stage were well-prepared, and all displayed presidential dignity and bearing except for the attention-craving Vivek Ramaswarmy. It was good that you-know-who was not at the debate, so the focus stayed on the issues.

The encouraging moments of the debate came from Nikki Halley. She admonished her party to be truthful with the public about government spending, noting that both parties are to blame for the rapidly increasing national debt. America’s debt increased by almost $8 trillion during former-President Donald Trump’s four years in office, and Republicans brought back earmarks that led to spending abuses. Halley also showed common sense by pointing out the impracticality of candidates pushing for a federal ban on abortion. Such a bill wouldn’t pass Congress, and independent voters had showed their disfavor with abortion restrictions in the 2022 elections.

Another example of a flexible, practical candidate was Chris Christie. He was easily elected governor of a blue state. He highlighted that he was able to work with the Democrats, who controlled the legislature, to lower taxes and state debt. Contrast Halley and Christie with Ron DeSantis who has a my-way-or-the-highway tone about the way he is going to fix America.

In a 1967 speech California Gov. Ronald Reagan emphasized that, “The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths.” Reagan urged his Republican audience to not become a “narrow sectarian party” or they would not attract the independent-minded voters needed to win elections.

Both Republicans and Democrats have become less “big tent” in their thinking and less receptive to considering alternative approaches to governing. Proud and stubborn members of Congress propose impractical legislation instead of carefully considering ways to balance the budget and address our many pressing problems. It is easy for the average voter to become frustrated and apathetic when they see our leaders not make any effort to open their minds to possible alternatives that might benefit our nation.

Consider the people who are effective in our local government. We prefer those who are adept at working with other people and are knowledgeable about the needs of the community. Eighty percent of what they do is behind the scenes, researching the facts, seeking public opinion, understanding the many angles to every issue. They may have strong beliefs about policies, but they are able to grasp and consider opposing arguments so that optimal decisions are made.

George Washington or some other hero is not going to rescue us. We must choose imperfect mortals as leaders. Let’s favor those who show flexibility in their views. Their value as elected officials is in their ability to bring many people and ideas together. Those spouting know-it-all sound bites are not what we need. True leaders will talk about collaboration and will carefully consider the alternatives for the good of the community and nation.

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