Can Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel Find Common Ground?
- Monday, October 22, 2007
They remain partisan, but they’ve renounced polarization.
The new book they authored together, “Common Ground,” is “a campaign against polarization,” Beckel says. “But it’s not Kumbayah—we’re going to disagree. I’m still a liberal, and Cal is still wrong.”
It’s a funny quip, one of several the two men traded during recent book-signing in Northern Virginia, where they elaborated on the book and their reasons for writing it. “People have been conditioned to equate political positions with the value of a person,” Thomas says. “There’s a lot of name-calling now.”
It’s time for a reprieve, and the authors are seeking to lead the way toward a more civil political dialogue.
Beckel says the origins of our polarized political system in the United States go back to the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it was the Robert Bork hearings and Iran Contra scandal, and the back-to-back presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, that created a polarized culture like we’ve never seen. “Can you imagine two presidents, one after another, who could polarize the base of the other party more?” Beckel asked.
While Beckel is known for 3 years of co-hosting “Crossfire” with Lynne Cheney, Thomas is well known to conservatives for his widely syndicated newspaper column and TV appearances. An outspoken Evangelical, Thomas has distanced himself from the Religious Right in recent years, co-authoring a book, “Blinded by Might,” that chronicled his move away from the idea that political power is an effective way of inculcating the ideas of Jesus.
“There’s no such thing as trickle-down morality,” Thomas says. “Evangelicals have become just one more demographic to win over.” Still, Thomas confesses to some amusement at the attempts of Progressives to co-opt religious language for their own political ends—the same mistake Religious Right leaders made—and the knots they tie themselves in to do so. “My favorite moment came when Howard Dean was asked what his favorite New Testament book was, and he answered that it was the book of Job!”
People don’t want a Theologian in Chief, Thomas says. “They want someone who can run the country, and run it well.”
Beckel offers a compromise. Uncomfortable with George Bush’s idea of faith-based initiatives, which tie churches to government purse strings, Beckel says federal money should be taken out of churches. In return, “I don’t see any reason you can’t take one minute out of a school day for a moment of silence. Look at the girl in front of you if you want,” he says.
If we can meet each other halfway, then maybe, after decades spent at war with each other, Americans can focus on a shared enemy. Says Thomas: “Bob’s not the enemy—the Taliban is!”
The two men hope their book strikes a chord, but, says Beckel, “The ‘common ground’ movement, with our without us, has already started.”
Will the numbers of people desiring middle ground produce a shift in the polarized political debate as the rhetoric of the next presidential campaign heats up? Only time will tell.
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