History and our culture are rife with seemingly odd pairings that, perhaps counterintuitively, turned out to be productive and beneficial. Previously in these pages I’ve mentioned the counterbalance provided by founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. But there was also an odd friendship between George Wallace and Shirley Chisholm. House Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan. RBG and Antonin ‘Nino’ Scalia. Not to mention RUN-DMC and Steven Tyler.
While I wouldn’t place myself anywhere near that incredible canon of luminaries, I’m here to tell you first-hand there can be great benefit to reaching out to one’s perceived political adversary.
Witness my surprisingly productive working relationship with the publisher and son of the founder of this newspaper, Tim Buckley.
In that the investor group I led purchased the Montecito Journal outright from its founder, it is not unreasonable to ask, why is Tim Buckley still here?
Almost two years ago, when I began talks to purchase this newspaper, it was made clear that the previous owners wouldn’t sell to just anyone willing to pay the asking price. The Montecito Journal was and is Jim Buckley’s life work and he didn’t want that effort to have been for naught. Shortly after I showed interest, Jim asked me to meet with his son. The idea, obvious but unspoken, is I needed to pass Tim’s sniff test.
And he needed to pass mine. We both suspected this would be our first and quite possibly only meeting.
It was February 2018 and my family had been evacuated from the debris flow and was staying at the recently opened Hotel Californian on lower State Street which became our second home to my family and three dogs and half of Montecito. I suggested that Tim and I meet for breakfast at a dark, under-travelled eatery on the pier.
Tim was impressed with my choice of meeting spot. He thought it was very “gangster.” I took the compliment though I knew it was undeserved. I had only chosen the venue because it was walking distance from my hotel and, more importantly, it was a dark restaurant where we were unlikely to run into, well… anyone.
Tim ordered potatoes and bacon for breakfast, which only reinforced my assumption that he and I could not be more different. I ordered an egg-white omelet and we began to talk. When our 9 am breakfast ended – at close to noon – I could not have been more surprised. I found Tim humble and smart and extremely open-minded. When he talked about his children and his wife, he had a twinkle in his eye and there was no question where his heart lay first and foremost. But there was a close second, and that was Montecito, and the paper his family had started and nurtured for decades. He loves his town. The people who live here. The people who own businesses here and were struggling to survive amidst an unprecedented natural disaster. The people who have written for him and designed for him and sold ads for him, and delivered papers for him, for years. This young man, almost two decades my junior, who just that morning I had written off with my own prejudice, had an admirable work ethic, an obvious moral center, and a deep sense of loyalty to those who depend on him.
Over the next few weeks Tim and I spent a lot of time together talking about my plans for the paper. My thinking was that he could help with the transition… after all, he knew where the bodies were buried. But the more time we spent together, the more we discussed ideas, challenged each other’s ideas, and debated approaches to raising the level of discourse in our community, the more I began to believe that maybe we could – dare I say it – actually work together.
I wrote the cover story for the Spring 2019 Journal Glossy (the story about Billy Baldwin and Chynna Phillips) because as a writer I know there’s no better way to test out working with someone than to have them edit you. Working with Tim was a pleasure. He could not have been more respectful, more supportive or more collaborative. And most importantly, he made me better.
It became clear to me that this ideological “opponent” was simply another person who happens to have differing political views, but who cares as deeply for this community as I do. Unlike many of my closest friends, those in my personal echo chamber, Tim and I complement each other precisely because we challenge and expand each other’s world views.
I have come to believe that there is real danger in algorithmic or “infinity mirror” thinking. When I was a kid there was no practical way to play only the songs I already knew I liked, so I listened to them all – on both sides of the album. If Spotify had existed then, I would never have heard so much of the music that ended up moving me in surprising ways. I often think about that with my kids and worry about all the less obvious songs they’ll never know by never listening to the other side.
It has been said about the friendship of RBG and Justice Scalia that their oddly functional relationship made a larger statement about the robustness of the Supreme Court as an institution: that it was strengthened rather than weakened by respectful debate and could work regardless of the spectrum of extremes represented.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with someone who thinks differently than I do. And from that, I suspect, our readers will benefit greatly. I made a lot of assumptions about Tim Buckley, just as I suspect readers will make assumptions about me. But the truth is, there’s more to any of us than just our political leanings. In the spirit of the holiday season, let me suggest you reach out to someone on the other side of the aisle. The distance may be less than you think. After all, it’s not a gulf. It’s just an aisle.
My very best,