THE BLOG
01/14/2014 08:27 am ET | Updated Mar 16, 2014

Swing-State Bickering and a New Podcast

I'm here to introduce you to a new podcast, The Ohio Revolt, in which two Ohioans and two Ohio ex-pats argue politics and culture. But first, I want to talk about a guy in high school whose guts I hated with a passion.

Back when I was growing up in Toledo, there was this guy -- for now I'll call him, hmmm, let's say "Bob Lang." Bob Lang, in my opinion, was a Rush Limbaugh-spouting a-hole, an intolerant conservative who had no time for divergent opinions, however politely stated. Just as bad, for reasons I can't comprehend, my friends actually liked Bob Lang, invited him everywhere they went, wherever they went.

I had no idea why I was the only person who had a problem with Bob Lang.
Bob Lang, whom I hated, would say things like, as he was taking off his private-school coat and tie,

"So, Phil, you think people should just sit around on their asses receiving welfare checks?" Bad enough, but much worse than his ideological one-liners was the fact that I had no idea how to respond to them. The French have a saying you may know: l'esprit de l'escalier. Staircase wit. It refers to the idea of thinking of a retort too late, as in, by the time I reached the staircase, I said to myself, "Dammit, THAT is what I should have told Bob Lang!" I would have been grateful for such a too-late epiphany, but even those didn't come; I was simply too young and inexperienced in life, and so "Why do you have to be such a dick?" was about the best I could manage -- in my head, mind you, because in reality I didn't even say that.

Anyway, years passed. I moved away from Ohio, got into journalism, moved to Memphis, wrote a lot there, left Memphis for Seattle, burned out on journalism, wrote a book, which was turned into a movie, got married, moved to New York, and got into charity relief work, documentary film producing and a bunch of other things. Along the way I learned a lot. I educated myself on a wide array of social, culture, and political issues, and more importantly I worked on my horrific lack of social self-confidence, so that whenever I got into arguments, I might know how to, you know, respond.

But it's bigger than that. Some stories represent larger ideas than they originally seem. The more I considered it, the more I decided that those exchanges with Bob Lang made more sense when you saw them from the point of view of an Ohioan.

Ohio, "the heart of it all," goes the motto. Presidential elections have come and gone, and each time Ohio swung to favor the winning side. That's been so since 1964. Why? Because most Ohioans are pragmatists. Most* Ohioans don't want to be bothered by the culture wars, or the push and pull of insider Beltway politics. Their votes are swayed by the basic questions that decide major elections, "Is America strong, and is my life going OK?" If both answers are yes, at least compared to general, common-sense expectations, then Ohioans vote for the incumbent and the incumbent party. If no, then the bums are thrown out. It's really that simple.

There's also the classic Midwestern sense of humor, which is rooted in that Midwestern pragmatism. Most Ohioans have a great B.S. detector, and, just as important, a great B.S. deflector. "Deflect" as in, the reaction, this guy is clearly full of it, and I could get angry about that, but I'd rather crack a joke. I could have deflated Bob -- yes, ideologues exist even in Ohio -- in those awkward high school moments just by cracking a good joke.

I'll probably never move back to Ohio, but after all these years away I do miss the Midwestern sensibility so much that I thought I'd catch up with some old friends from my Ohio days and start a podcast.

There's the conservative/libertarian Ian King, with whom I went to high school. Ian still lives in Ohio, and is the rare Rust-Belt resident who works in management in the manufacturing industry.

There's the liberal Haki Crisden, whom I met when we were both interns at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland; Haki stayed on to work as an editor at the paper for eleven more years before moving to Australia.**

And then there's Bob Lang. Yeah, that's actually his real name, now that I think about it...anyway, Bob and I caught up on Facebook a few years ago, and as it turns out he still lives in Ohio, and, more importantly, he's mellowed considerably, to the point where he sounds more like a typical Ohioan to me. In fact in a very short time I've grown to really respect the guy, though our opinions are still quite far apart on a score of issues.

Ohio Revolt -- an ironic name, in my opinion, because Ohioans don't really revolt, they argue, and when things get too heated, they crack jokes -- is a lively, funny weekly video podcast about the latest issues affecting Ohio and the rest of the country.

Check us out if you want. In this episode, I butted heads pretty hard not with Bob Lang but with Ian King, over Radio Disney's decision, eventually withdrawn, to work with pro-fracking interests to educate children in the Buckeye State. It got pretty heated, but it's nothing that a joke or two can't easily defuse.

* Notice I say "most." Not all, by any means.
** In coming weeks I'll also blog about other friends on the podcast, Haki Crisden and Ian King. And all three guys are invited to talk smack about me whenever they want.