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Columnists

Remembering Dan and His Intellectual Honesty

A couple of days after my return to the North to celebrate Thanksgiving, I stopped off at a local tavern to greet some friends I hadn’t seen since the summer. My carefree euphoria was abruptly halted when I gazed at my phone and saw the sad news: Dan Georgakas had passed away.

Dan and I were not close friends – in fact, I’m not sure if I ever even met him in person – but as fellow columnists for The National Herald, we maintained an excellent working relationship and, as I elaborate in this week’s column, my experiences with him were nothing but positive.

I confess, I did not know of Dan Georgakas until we shared space on TNH’s op-ed pages. I learned he was a radical activist in the 1960s, and  a pillar of the Greek-American academic community. Others more familiar with Dan in those capacities can pay homage to those of his accomplishments far better than I can, and so I’ll confine my tribute to my personal interactions with him.

Shortly after becoming TNH’s executive editor in 2013, I wanted to create a regular point-counterpoint op-ed column in which two writers would offer their respective perspectives on current events. Then-Publisher-Editor Antonis Diamataris liked the idea, along with the name I chose: Agora – the Original Marketplace of Ideas. Many will instantly recognize the reference – to the gathering places in Ancient Greek city-states – and my intention was to create the type of forum not found in most newspapers any longer, where at least two sides of a controversial issue are presented.

Antonis and I collaborated on the first several columns, and then he told me one day that he’d be stepping away from Agora and that his replacement would be Dan Georgakas. As I soon came to realize, it was the right decision.

As much as I enjoyed co-authoring Agora with Antonis, he and I are not political opposites: we occupy  points somewhere along the center, and our variances are not dramatic. In stark contrast, Dan was a bona fide leftist. A proud, old-school liberal who loyally clung to his Sixties ideals, far from the type of ‘wokism’ that has hijacked today’s Democratic progressive wing.

In the years that followed, Dan and I respectfully disagreed on many issues, but we both were eager to highlight, and celebrate, the occasions on which we agreed, which were more frequent than one might have imagined.

I don’t suppose it’s much of a virtue, but I don’t initiate snarkiness; I only get snarky as a counterattack. In any case, Dan never gave me reason to, as he was, without exception, the consummate gentleman.
Dan’s arguments were pure of heart. I never had reason to doubt his sincerity. He wasn’t trying to ‘win’ the debate, and he never turned it into an argument.

Agora served readers who enjoyed a sincere intellectual exchange of ideas conduced cordially and respectfully (if mudslinging is your idea of entertainment, then Agora wasn’t for you). Thankfully, the columns are preserved in TNH’s archives at www.thenationalherald.com.
Interestingly, Dan and I often criticized the same people: politicians in either major party whom we deemed hypocritical, duplicitous, and shallow. Neither of us blindly defended ‘the home team’ or refused to give credit to the other side when we felt such credit was due. Dan and I were both tough on our own; much like being tougher on your own kid when s/he together with the neighbor’s kid smashes another neighbor’s window.

Dan and I certainly weren’t the first tandem to debate issues intensely but amicably, and we won’t be the last. It was really good while it lasted and Antonis, true to his form of having sharp instincts about what’s best for the Herald, knew what he was doing when he teamed us up.

I shake my head in dismay these days when I turn on most television stations that purport to provide journalism, and all I see – with rare exception – is comfort food doled out from ideologically divergent feeding troughs. Those who want to hear what a loser Biden is know exactly where to tune in, as do those who want to revel in some Trump-bashing.

But it wasn’t always like that: CNN, back when it was a far more respectable news outlet, showcased Crossfire. The Fox News Channel aired The Beltway Boys. USA Today featured the Common Ground column. Even the highly polarizing Hannity show (also on Fox) spent its first few years as Hannity and Colmes (the latter, Alan Colmes, serving as the liberal counterpart to the conservative Sean Hannity).
Each of those forums provided thought-provoking debate in a civilized manner. That’s what Dan and I tried to do, week after week.

The last time I spoke with Dan on the phone was a few years ago, after I had announced I was relinquishing my editing duties at TNH but staying on as a columnist. He called me, concerned if my reasons were health related. They weren’t; I had accepted a long-term professional project. But Dan’s concern was truly touching.

Dan falls into the category of many people I’ve gotten to know with whom I lost contact, certainly for no substantive reason, but simply because life caused us to drift into other realms, and we were simply neglectful to stay in touch.

Ultimately, I had more in common with Dan than I do with many people who vote for the same candidates as me. I’d rather converse with an openminded and polite liberal than with a closed-minded and rude conservative. There aren’t enough liberals like Dan around any longer. I hope he’s been an inspiration to enough young leftists to keep those ideals going – not because I agree with the substance, but I admire the unsulliedness.
May we always remember Dan for, among many other things, his contributions to journalism. It was an honor working with him.

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