These days, people on "one side" of the political spectrum are not supposed to cooperate, much less have a personal relationship with anyone on the "other side." Siding with "the enemy" can get you branded a compromiser, a sellout, or fool. While it is true that on too many occasions, conservatives have had their ideological pockets picked by liberals whose favor they curried, that is no excuse for hating people because of their political beliefs.
In the case of my 25-year relationship with Sen. Edward Kennedy, our ideological pockets have remained secure, but our friendship has been something I have treasured.
It began in 1983 when I received a call from a Washington Post reporter. I was working for the Moral Majority at the time and a computer had spit out a membership card for Sen. Kennedy and then inadvertently sent it to him. The reporter asked if I wanted the card back. "No," I said. "We don't believe anyone is beyond redemption. In fact, I hope Sen. Kennedy comes and speaks at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University)," the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
A few days later, I received a call from Kennedy's chief of staff. "The senator accepts your invitation." I was stunned and so was Falwell, but Kennedy came and was well received. He spoke on faith, truth and tolerance and his remarks are as relevant today as they were when he uttered them. (See and read them here).
While some might disagree on the way he applies such notions to the liberal policies in which he believes; few would contest most of the principles he articulated that night.
Kennedy said: "I am an American and a Catholic; I love my country and treasure my faith. But I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society."
What student or advocate of the First Amendment would disagree with that? Is that not what the Founders had in mind when they prohibited a federally established religion while simultaneously guaranteeing its free exercise? Kennedy continued, "When people agree on public policy, they ought to be able to work together, even while they worship in diverse ways. For truly, we are all yoked together as Americans, and the yoke is the happy one of individual freedom and mutual respect."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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