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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Lauren Hogan
Washington, DC

Lauren Hogan

My resume suggests that I'm black. I’m not. But I’m not afraid to talk about race, either.

Stop the insanity

Editor's note: For this final challenge, we asked the contestants to craft an op-ed that showcases their writing style, smarts and unique point of view.

The last time I stood here, by this chain-link fence outside the Capitol building, I was clutching a useless Purple Gate ticket, huddled around a stranger's portable radio to hear President Obama deliver his inauguration address. "On this day," he said, "we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." People hugged and laughed and cried. I thought they understood that when Obama said we will work together, he meant it. He meant working with people who disagree; working across aisles and faiths and color lines to find common ground, listen to new viewpoints and engage in real debate.

Others thought so, too. More than 200,000 people attended the Rally to Restore Sanity on Saturday, carrying signs that said "Compromise is not a dirty word" and "My fiance is a Republican and we love reasonable discourse." No one took a stand against sanity. But there were people in the crowd, in the papers and on TV who continue to rail against sanity, understood as civic -- and civil -- debate. When Sean Hannity says that Democrats in Congress should be tortured at Guantanamo Bay, or Rachel Maddow calls Bill Clinton the best Republican president ever, they are rewarded by their respective camps.

It's more fun to be an extremist. It's easier to preach to the choir. And it's better for ratings. When CNN tried to be middle-of-the-road, it fell to third place, behind Fox News and MSNBC, whose own ratings improved when it moved to the left. Last week, someone told me that liberals should never go on Fox News and that conservatives have no place at NPR. But I'm not less of a liberal if I talk to Republicans. I'm not less Jewish because I married someone Catholic. We don't give up who we are when we reach out to someone else. There have been many calls in the past week for the president to demonstrate renewed leadership. Many of them have been for compromise, bipartisanship and, yes, sanity. But some have been from Democrats who believe that compromise is the same as caving in. These are, of course, the same people who screamed about George W. Bush's sycophants, mock Republican purity tests and vilify Republicans for refusing to come to the table.

Republicans deserve blame for this -- they've made it clear that they intend to use obstructionism as a solution to the nation's problems. As John Boehner said last week about health care (though it may as well have been the Republican rallying cry): "We're going to do everything -- and I mean everything -- we can do, to kill it, stop it, slow it down."

But Democrats, if they refuse to come to the table, will deserve blame as well. If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. This is not to say that everything is up for debate -- civil rights, for example, shouldn't be subject to compromise or depend on the whim of the majority. Yet most of our real, hard problems won't be solved unilaterally. As I stood shivering outside on Jan. 20, 2009, Obama said of earlier generations: "They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please." People may wish that Obama had done as he pleased over the past two years, knowing that 2010 would bring a transition away from Democratic congressional control. But he set an example that lived up to his own rhetoric. He wanted to work together, to create buy-in through bipartisanship. Politically, Obama shouldn't have reached out to Republicans last summer on health care, but the effort was principled and consistent, and I respect him for trying.

Now, trying won't be enough. After Tuesday, we can do one of two things. We can retreat into the safety of our own echo chambers, as Stephen Colbert did on Saturday, hiding half-naked in his "fear bunker," and assuring ourselves that nothing will get done. Or we can come out into the open, like Colbert clothed in the cape of Captain America, to talk to one another and try to solve some problems. Each party can make its own choice -- I hope they choose the one that makes the country just a little more sane.

Read more by Lauren Hogan. And then cast your vote to determine who should win the title of America's Next Great Pundit 2010.

By Lauren Hogan  |  November 1, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Old-school op-eds
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"When Sean Hannity says that Democrats in Congress should be tortured at Guantanamo Bay, or Rachel Maddow calls Bill Clinton the best Republican president ever..."

You're ACTUALLY comparing these two statements??? You're ACTUALLY trying to tell me that the insanity on the left is equal to the insanity on the right?

When ultra-conservatives screech about Obama being a Muslim, being born in Indonesia, Sharia law in the US, Democrats as enemies of the United States in Washington (see Bachmann, Michele), & climate change as a communistic scientific fraud, none of which is true and for which there isn't even a shred of evidence, you're ACTUALLY trying to convince me it's as much the left's fault?

The right is the side that needs to rein themselves in. Sadly, with winning the majority in the House, they'll get even more vitriolic. There are no grown-ups left on the right who even think it's necessary to hold a conversation when they can shove their agenda down the country's throat.

Posted by: joeyalphabet62 | November 9, 2010 10:43 AM
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All I can say is, I would be nervous and scared if you got on a plane with me.

Posted by: ebonytower1 | November 2, 2010 10:06 AM
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While you can blame the Republicans or call others extreme perhaps it is Obama that is disingenuous. Cap and trade is extreme, so is forcing someone to buy health insurance even though Obama disagreed with this plan as a candidate. You talk about how fun it is to be extreme. Perhaps. if you are an psuedo-extremist like Ann Coulter who shocks people for a good living. Real extremists though are about as fun as one of the Old Testament prophets who sits in sackcloth and ashes. It might be that Obama will feel this way too after tommorrows election.

Posted by: luvmtains | November 2, 2010 3:36 AM
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Lauren, this is a horrible column, especially considering its your final effort to try and win. You say nothing...compromise except when you shouldn't. Huh? You literally try to copy Jon Stewart's message...while completely messing it up. You give us no insight, just a collection of paragraphs that show the intellectual sophistication of a high school student. I have no clue how you got this far, honestly. Your posts tend to be incredibly simplistic, not convincing of anything, and sometimes xenophobic (the Juan Williams post still bothers me). If you somehow manage to win, it will be a pretty damning indictment of this whole contest, showing it was nothing more than a twitter/facebook competition. No offense, you should stick to your day job. You're not good at this at all. I say that as someone who probably politically agrees with most of what you try to say.

Posted by: fp26 | November 2, 2010 12:20 AM
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Posted by: MsJS:
I cast my vote for the commenters. Seriously. If any of you write regularly elsewhere, let me know so I can follow you from time to time.
-----------------------------
I agree. A run-off between MsJS, martymar123, and CHUCKY-EL would have produced true Great Pundit fare.

While these three are good to mediocre depending on the day, none quite hit the GP level. On the other hand, they are FAR better than last year's clown.

Also would note 3 far better GPs were eliminated in the round of ten, mostly because their Facebook Friend circle was too small.

Posted by: chucky-el | November 1, 2010 11:16 PM
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Really?

Princess of xenophobia talking about reaching out to someone else?

Seriously, how were you able to make it this far in the contest?

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | November 1, 2010 11:05 PM
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Not very impressive. This piece could benefit from a little less ditziness and a little more substance.

Good luck next year. Sorry

Posted by: JamesBoobson | November 1, 2010 10:45 PM
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A well crafted high school oration, but unfortunately just as comparably profound. As I read I half expected "Why can't we all just get along?" to appear at the conclusion. My biggest take away from this year's contest is that it evidently is far more more difficult to be a good pundit than one would have thought.

Posted by: tfe1231 | November 1, 2010 9:47 PM
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Best of the three by far.

Posted by: DesertSailor | November 1, 2010 9:34 PM
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Wonderful! You win, hands down. Great opening, nicely threaded paragraphs, each one pulling the reader to the next, and finally, bringing home your theme of sanity to roost in the final paragraph.

The other two finalists are both good, but you really rise to the top.

Posted by: jackbarstoke | November 1, 2010 6:54 PM
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I don't always agree with you, but you don't piss me off when you get your point across.

You get my vote

Posted by: DDOG | November 1, 2010 6:06 PM
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This is definitely the best written piece, very well done. But, politically a big yawn. Like there are not enough well meaning liberal writers on these pages. Excellent writing though, impressive.

Posted by: JeninReno | November 1, 2010 2:05 PM
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I had some hope when I rad the first two paragraphs that there might beat least one good finalist - but by the end I realized that I could never vote for this. This is simply an attempted apology by an Obama sycophant - she vilifies the republicans and them says MAYBE later I'll have to blame some Dems first. Obama only compromised with is own party members and rammed everything through on part line votes.

What about when he told his supporters that they had to worry about their ENEMIES - he can call those who disagree with his politics his enemies but not the Iranian leadership and Muslim fascists. and then he said that his opponents just aren't thinking straight because they are scared, after all they couldn't be principled, just temporarily crazy.

Her lens is too distorted to see clearly.

Posted by: TuckerAndersen1 | November 1, 2010 1:49 PM
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“This is not to say that everything is up for debate -- civil rights, for example, shouldn't be subject to compromise or depend on the whim of the majority.” -  Lauren Hogan - November 1, 2010

“What they so blithely ignore, though, is that just as science is not decided by the popular vote, neither should the civil rights of a minority be placed at the whim of a majority.”-  P Z Myrers - September 27, 2010

Posted by: AegirC | November 1, 2010 1:01 PM
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You're supposed to write one column to win the contest and this is what you come up with? A ramshackle, incoherent collection of cliches about "reaching across the aisle" that tries to catch hold of Jon Stewart's coattails? Please.

You're out of your depth, Lauren. You've consistently failed to produce a single original or interesting thought in this competition. (That thoroughly misguided defense of Juan Williams wasn't even original). Your social network has carried you through this far, but let's hope for the sake of the Post that this is where it ends.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | November 1, 2010 12:53 PM
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All the naivity and earnestness of a high school civics student's declam when she isn't sure where the teacher's head is. She doesn't want to risk her nearly guaranteed A+, So, she gives us the on this hand, this; but on that hand, that; routine. Remember Harry Truman's words on such. If compromise is, as Lincoln is said to have said, the art of finding a middle ground between right and wrong, then Lauren will be finding good words to say about stupidity (perhaps: "At least it's what they really and sincerely believe") Fabian demonstrated that obstruction may well be the best pathway, George Washington did much of the same during most of the American Revolution. Obama is offering the loaf of socialism and government micro-management, many (most if you believe the polls) of the body politic reject the offering. Where and how does Lauren suggest the comprmise be drawn? What goals, beyond being civil, does she believe should be paramount? For which half-loaf will she settle?

Posted by: DoubleDonn | November 1, 2010 12:46 PM
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"Pabulum." Substantive comment again, Jack Ryan. ....Just sayin'

Posted by: martymar123 | November 1, 2010 12:34 PM
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The first paragraph is unnecessary: the article begins in the second 'graf. That alone deep-sixes this entry. The fact that comes down unequivocally for apple pie doesn't help either.

Posted by: fartig | November 1, 2010 12:29 PM
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This seems like a collection of observations about bipartisan conflict that lacks a strong thesis. Is the author saying that modern politics are insane? That is a weak and unoriginal assertion.

There are also many grammatical errors (incorrect verb tenses in comma lists and comma omissions) that make the op-ed even harder to follow.

Posted by: jhones | November 1, 2010 11:57 AM
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Nicely done. Easy to read, good analysis, informative, forward looking on a very important issue.

Speaks to how Obama has it right, that united we stand, divided we fail. Lays blame where it belongs, "Republicans deserve blame for this -- they've made it clear that they intend to use obstructionism as a solution to the nation's problems."

Word of advice, make sure you write to the Great issues of the day. Be a Great Pundit!

Posted by: chucky-el | November 1, 2010 11:56 AM
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Pabulum.

Posted by: JackRyan82 | November 1, 2010 11:54 AM
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Rambling column, mostly bits and pieces of opinion with little to back it up. Not as bad as the other two columns, but there's just not much here.

Posted by: Gradivus | November 1, 2010 11:37 AM
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For jkk1943:
Please look at the numbers before you speak. Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Bush created $11 trillion of the $13 trillion National Debt in place when Obama took office. These 3 NeoCon Republicans were the most fiscally irresponsible presidents in American history, not "liberal" Republicans and Democrats.

Posted by: chucky-el | November 1, 2010 11:36 AM
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Make that the 42nd president. duh!

Posted by: MsJS | November 1, 2010 11:22 AM
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This is a convoluted mess. What is your point, Lauren? We should compromise except when we shouldn't? I know you're trying to lift Jon Stewart's message here (way to be original), but you're butchering it. After reading this, nobody will really be sure what you're saying. It reads like a high school student wrote it. I also find it ironic that you say civil liberties are not negotiable, even though you condoned bigoted comments from Juan Williams as legitimate a few posts back...again, shows how little you understand xenophobia (its more than just black and white). This is the final column you write to win this contest? Wow. Unoriginal, unclear, and hypocritical (considering your earlier work). How did you even make it to the finals?

Posted by: jimmysnuka1 | November 1, 2010 10:52 AM
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I would have preferred you address the real roadblock to civil debate - the vilifying of those whose ideas we oppose. You were dangerously close to doing just that with your John Boehner quote, slightly pulling your punch in an effort to demonstrate open-mindedness. The opening line of paragraph four, when you laid blame at the feet of the Republicans, also did you no favors in making your point.

In all, this was more a touchy-feely column. What we need is the ability to understand why so many feel so strongly about things with which we don’t agree. That search for understanding is the only way to find any semblance of common ground.

Posted by: pszyd | November 1, 2010 10:33 AM
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Best opening paragraph of the three, but runs out of steam by the end due to the lack of an original, or, at the very least, insightful thought. You occupy a bully pulpit when you write for the WaPo. Use it or lose it.

Posted by: dmarney | November 1, 2010 9:36 AM
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Lauren, one other thing. You opine in your article that Obama "meant it" when he spoke of working together. Can you name any example of when he actually "meant it"? This is part of the problem that I had with your article - the premise - that Obama was a healing force - "post racial", et al, has never been felt. Most people in fly over country "get it" when it comes to style over substance - and this Presidency has never been about substance - only thuggery - the Chicago way. This is why your article doesn't hit home - it is detached from reality.

Posted by: jgdonahue | November 1, 2010 9:29 AM
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First, a point of clarification on the Bill Clinton comment. Michael Moore wrote back in 2000 that "Bill Clinton is perhaps the best Republican president we've had since Abraham Lincoln." So Rachel Maddow's more recent statement about the 40th president is not exactly original.

And neither is this column.

During this contest the author has shown she is ready to advise others about communicating in difficult circumstances. Her own willingness to do the same, however, has not been so strong.

So for her to trot out worn, tired, reach-across-the-aisle platitudes without offering one specific suggestion as to how is not just unoriginal, it's almost hypocritical.

Posted by: MsJS | November 1, 2010 9:14 AM
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Lauren, your comment about people coming together and talking with each other and solving probelms - this was the great hope fo the Obama inauguration. The reality was that - like with the 5 day waiting period on bills, as well as the "transparency" of our ability to read Congressional bills online, this never happened. Just like the Presdient's "no more earmarks" statement just before he signed 2000 of them into law, the hollowness of this Adminstrations discourse has caused the problems that you state. The argument that you put forth is about "hope" , but isn;t the reality that we need new people in the COngress who are willing to talk about these problems? Don't people want to have the right thing done and put this country back on track? I think that you miss a third option on Tuesday - to put the right people in who are not about careerism and their own personal agendas - but rather to do the coutnry's business and not be driven by partisan behavior. The only "fear' that exists, is the fear that we will continue doen the same path as we have for the last two years - with one party in charge and no common sense being advocated.

Posted by: jgdonahue | November 1, 2010 8:55 AM
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Mediocre article. States the obvious by touting the chimera of bi-partisanship. Lets all just be happy and get along. There are real bedrock differences between the parties that cause friction. When liberals speak of comprimise what they really want is for the GOP to behave like liberals. This was the operative landscape of our politics through a series of basicall liberal GOP Presidents like Nixon and GW Bush. They spent a little bit less than Democrats and were a bit more fiscally responsible but not much. The ground is shifting and for the first time in years the public -not the parties- is beginning to question the value and legitimacy of tax and spend, entitlement based liberal governance.

Posted by: jkk1943 | November 1, 2010 8:40 AM
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I agree with you, Lauren. I do think I would want to edit down the number of words devoted to President Obama, unless you only wish to preach to the choir. Choose your lightening rods wisely and try to be aware, as you write, of the effect that the mere mention of some names has on some people. You may be trying to be even-handed, but both sides don't share the same icons...

"It is easy to forget now just how impressive (Sarah)Palin was when she debuted on the national stage at the GOP Convention. Her speech was moving, commanding, and personable - not unlike another candidate that year" Ouch!

"But she is not ready to be president for the same reason that Barack Obama was not ready..." For the same reason...? The woman who can't even name a newspaper? The gloves are back on.

When your opponent, William Cunion, wrote the above lines, he didn't mean them to be fighting words. But they were to me.

Good Luck, Lauren.

Posted by: martymar123 | November 1, 2010 7:27 AM
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I would vote for Lauren, over the other two candidates, because her first paragraph is direct and well written. If she can learn to continue that, steady and straight, for an entire column, she will have made it to second base as a publishable columnist.

To reach home plate, she will need to eschew the gibber of the day and offer what is fresh and intriguing. Unless, of course, the style, in its freshness or wit, surprises. That is what I from a columnist, to be ambushed by the unexpected.

Posted by: nacllcan | November 1, 2010 5:01 AM
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