H. Brandt Ayers: On being out of touch
Dec 09, 2012 | 2798 views |  0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Today is the 52nd anniversary of my life with a striking woman whose personality combines magnetism with beckoning warmth. Thank you, Josephine, for being the wellspring of my happiness.

Add to that essential source of well-being the joy of victory for the Tide in the SEC Championship game — whew, it was close, wasn’t it? — and the generous spirit of the Christmas season. My cup runneth over.

It is in that spirit that I turn to thank Mr. John Ratliff of Jacksonville, who wrote to point out that the publisher and editorial staff of The Star are “completely out of touch politically with the vast majority of their subscribers.”

Though his letter was critical, I bet we agree on issues close to home. He may even agree that, surrounded by a sea of red, it’s not such a bad thing to sound a brave blue note as solace for the blue minority; at the cost of mildly irritating the majority or being compared by them to a crazy uncle in the attic.

Since he raised the subject, maybe Mr. Ratliff would like to know how in 50 years of journalism, observing humankind at his best and his worst, I came by the views that he regards as wrong-headed.

I was fortunate in the earliest years of my career as a reporter in Raleigh, N.C., to be exposed to two extraordinary governors, Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford. Together, they met the racial crisis with calm and effective morality, built the social and economic fountainhead of the Research Triangle Park, created a well-designed junior-college system and a consolidated system of world-class research universities.

As Washington correspondent for The (Raleigh) News and Observer and some other Southern papers, I confronted Southern demagoguery at its worst, especially from Sen. James O. Eastland of Mississippi, but was inspired by the courage of John F. Kennedy in facing down the Soviets, the vision of his space program that spawned a technological revolution and his moral firmness on civil rights.

These were the years when our Gov. George Wallace was waging a tornadic and futile campaign on the ground in Alabama and as a presidential candidate to preserve a moral wrong and condemn “tyrants” of the federal government.

It did not then, and does not now, seem strange to take the more liberal path.

Neither do I find it heretical that our great country finally, like every other advanced nation, has decided that health care for the 30 million to 40 million denied it is not a right or a privilege but a human necessity.

Further down Mr. Ratliff’s bill of indictments is The Star’s belief that, in a state where the road from the altar to the divorce court is sadly short, two people who love each other should be allowed to live with respect and have the rights of any other married couple.

It is the view of some economists, perhaps Mr. Ratliff as well, that the banks and the auto industry should have been allowed to crash; that would teach them to do better next time. We are grateful that the president kept the Bush recession from cratering into a full-blown depression.

In addition, the Republican philosophy of supply side economics, that feeding the fortunate with tax cuts will ignite fabulous growth and balance budgets, we now know from history that it doesn’t work.

On abortion, I cringe at the thought and pray that it is rare, though it is a decision to be taken by a woman, her family and her doctor — not by the government. That is the conservative view, as I see it.

Besides, I’m certain Mr. Ratliff would agree that a presidential election is less important than the issues that affect us directly such as the quality of local government and schools, the local economy, high school and college football, even the topic for “breakfast club” discussions at Jack’s.

We hire more and better reporters than most papers our size to keep a finger on the vital pulse of our communities.

National big-box stores and branches of huge banking houses are part of a growing depersonalization of society. In too many communities also, a stranger runs their newspaper for a national chain or investor.

The publisher of this newspaper is a native son and, like his father and grandfather, he cares more about this town, the surrounding communities and his state than any other place in the world.

When my town is governed badly, as it has been until the recent election, it is not only right, it is a duty of the local newspaper to expose its failures and scold its officials.

Similarly, when the state is foolish or wrong, it is the obligation of a caring newspaper to expose the consequences of bad policy and criticize its leaders, but that doesn’t mean that the publisher loves his state any less.

It is those events and conditions that are closest to us that we care about the most. Josephine and I have argued and laughed and loved through nine presidencies but our greatest concern is for our daughter and each other.

On that point, I dare say Mr. Ratliff and I are in total agreement.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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