Illustration: Shannon May
Ten years ago, I was hired by CNN as a pundit, bloviator, spin master—and those are just the nicer names for what I do. It was an incredible opportunity for someone like me, who enjoys the political process—but it came with certain risks to the soul. News shows are often formatted like gladiator battles: The Democrat goes "head-to-head" with the Republican; we "face off"; one person "slams" the other. I've been called a racist because I support affirmative action; I've been called a bad Catholic because I believe in birth control. At the same time, I'm supposed to vilify the opposing side.
I often get depressed by this political environment. We're inundated with stories about congressional gridlock and a deeply divided public, all while the planet overheats, unhinged dictators in the Middle East run amok, and the economy goes off the rails. Like many Americans, I've sometimes doubted the functioning of our government. Take the night the U.S. Supreme Court ended the vote count in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, or that horrifying period after Hurricane Katrina when I could not get anybody at FEMA on the phone to help me locate my missing disabled sister.
But ultimately, I don't have the luxury of tuning out. Instead, I think of my mother, who taught me to find the good in every person and situation. She never let us lose hope—and she always made sure we believed Santa Claus would come, no matter how dirt-poor we were.
She's the reason I've spent my free time this summer looking for nice things to say about Mitt Romney, even though I don't plan to vote for him (for starters, he's an honorable, decent, and loving father who obviously cares deeply about this country). When I feel myself getting steamed up over an issue, it really does help to remember the rich humanity of my so-called opponents—even one as formidable as former Bush adviser Karl Rove. Competing against him was blood sport—and yet he and I have a great rapport. We discovered early on that we share a love of history. Karl doesn't just know dates and facts; he can tell you what people were eating, drinking, and thinking in 1896—and he's always sending me books by Joseph Ellis. He's proof that it's possible to disagree with someone on just about everything but still respect them.
Of course, I don't look for the good in others just on the campaign trail. I see it in the policeman on the beat who's there when I'm walking home late at night, and the air-traffic controllers who make sure the plane lands safely (I don't know who those people are, but I'm always praying for them). It may not be easy to believe in government, but I can certainly believe in the postal worker who tucks my mail neatly into my box so it won't get wet when I'm traveling.
It's people, not politicians, who make this country what it is. When I look around me, I can't help having faith.
More on Staying Hopeful
From the September 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!