Suddes delivers those age-old insights with a sharp, acerbic wit that makes you laugh as you shake your head in agreement (or wince, if you’re the target). His columns aim less to “host the discourse” than to shape it—an approach that can ruffle some feathers.
“Every so often someone stops me and asks ‘Are you the guy who wrote something in the paper?’” he said. “I say yes, but also look to see if they are carrying a bludgeon.”
But even as he colorfully attacks lawmakers for self-dealing or explains how term limits make it harder to hold legislators accountable, Suddes argues eloquently for more reasoned political debate. He often critiques a political and media culture that penalizes elected officials simply for going off-script. And in a column last December, he wrote about why Ohioans, and Americans, need to be able to disagree without being destructive:
At the Statehouse, no, they shouldn’t “all get along.” People “all get along” only when forced to, in such hellholes as North Korea. Democracy is arguments and competing interests. But democracy also aims at solving common problems. And that will never happen if every public officeholder’s destiny is failure.
As for how the media is faring in this campaign, Suddes said he pays little attention to political blogs. But he thinks the additional scrutiny of candidates and campaigns today is a good thing on balance.
“Things are getting incrementally better this time. There are more people looking for fresh angles, although a lot of it has to do with the optics, or packaging or choreography (of campaigns),” he said. “It’s not radically better, but it’s not worse.”
The press does, however, obsess too much over the “undecided voter,” Suddes said.
“I’m not sure there are a huge number of undecided voters that go back and forth between elections,” he said. “It’s a fantasy to think that people walk into the voter’s booth as if they are a blank slate.”
In terms of national coverage, Suddes is surprised that there is so little dialogue about the war in Afghanistan, America’s overseas commitments, and international trade—a perennial issue of concern here in Ohio.
Wherever the campaign goes over the coming months, Suddes will be on hand to help readers make sense of it, and to understand where today’s politics falls short and how it could be better. As the Free Times of Cleveland wrote in 2002, when it named him the area’s top local journalist: “Tom Suddes: He’s a consistent, sharp voice about what’s going on in Columbus, and one of the only reporters who understands why Ohio is governed by a group of bozos.”