Jeff Jacoby
WILLIAM RASPBERRY, who died of cancer last week at age 76, was a Washington Post columnist for 40 years, 35 of them on the op-ed page. It was a long a career, over the course of which, as he wrote in one of his final columns, he had lost his early appetite for "delivering the hard zinger" and come to value persuasion over polemic.

"I found myself trying to write," he said, "in such a way that people who didn't agree with me might at least hear me." As public discourse grew increasingly shrill, Raspberry worked to understand the views of those he disagreed with.

Fairness didn't mean humorlessness. Some of Raspberry's best -- and funniest -- columns were those recounting his arguments with an imaginary cabdriver, through whom he voiced plausible objections to his own positions.

Often these dealt with touchy subjects. A 2000 column headlined "Separate but Equalizing" opens with the cabby needling his famous columnist passenger -- both of them black -- about how civil rights liberals who once fought for color-blind integration now advocated loudly for color-conscious "diversity." Raspberry tells him that while black institutions in generations past were the product of segregation -- "we started them because white people wouldn't let us in theirs" -- black organizations today, such as the National Association of Black Journalists, were vehicles of minority empowerment.

"Let me see if I get this," Raspberry's cabby says. "If white people start white organizations, that's segregation. If minorities start minority organizations, that's diversity. That it?" Back and forth they tangle, and by the column's end Raspberry has conveyed his stand on a divisive racial issue, while simultaneously making it clear that people of goodwill could see the issue very differently.

One of the lessons a life of opinion-writing had imparted to him, Raspberry observed in 2006, was that "it is entirely possible for you to disagree with me without being, on that account, either a scoundrel or a fool."

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.