Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

Most Americans can be found somewhere in the middle, as illustrated by the fact that Democrats can win a national landslide in 2008 and Republicans can do the same a mere two years later. But sometimes it seems all the attention these days is focused on the nation's political poles.

It's almost as if these are the only two schools of thought offering open enrollment:

andbull; There's way too much government in our country today, and we need to drastically downsize it if we are to rebuild a nation of self-reliant people who will do good deeds because of their character, not because they're legally required to.

andbull; Private enterprise is driven by greed, and only good government

stands between us, a civilized people, and the misery that ensues when

the rich exploit the poor.

Comforting as it may be to wrap ourselves in absolutes, life is more

complicated than either of these polarized philosophies. Take Del Norte

County. Like most rural areas, we lean conservative in politics. But

we're also heavily reliant on government spending for jobs, such as the

1,500-plus at the prison, and social services for the poor.

No wonder we're unpredictable at the ballot box. For instance, Del

Norters went big for Jerry Brown for governor last month at the same

time they overwhelmingly supported Carly Fiorina for senator.

So if we're not all politically polarized, it figures that we should

be able to find enough common ground to work together on the problems

that face us, nationally and locally.

How do we do that? We communicate, and we open our minds to

viewpoints other than our own rather than merely associating with those

who already agree with us.

Joan Miles associates herself with the Tea Party movement. She wishes

for more political activism in our churches. For the life of her, she

can't grasp what drives the politically liberal beliefs of some people.

Yet the College of the Redwoods instructor came to my office recently to

ask what she could do to help get more voices onto the opinion page of

The Triplicate.

Understand, she's not just looking to just be preached to by the

choir. She values the free exchange of ideas, including those that don't

square with her own beliefs. As we finished our chat, she assured me

she'd encourage people to share their opinions with Triplicate readers.

She said she wanted to "start the conversation."

She left me ruminating about that word: "conversation." I may have

implied earlier in this column that our hopes for positive political

discourse rest with those who adhere to the middle ground. Yet here was a

staunch partisan asking what she could do to encourage the airing of

divergent points of view in the closest thing we have to a community

bulletin board - the local newspaper.

The letters to the editor have dwindled since the election season

ended, and I've received a grand total of one Coastal Voices opinion

piece from a local resident. But Joan Miles still thinks we have a lot

to talk about.

So do I. Drop us a line ( All I ask is that

you share your own words, your own opinions, rather than merely passing

along the latest tidbits gleaned from a TV show or the Internet. After

all, whether the subject is politics or just what's going on in your

neighborhood, the best conversation comes from the heart.

Common ground? We just might find some if we're willing to look

around and see where other people are coming from.