Now, at a time when book titles range from Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot to If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, it takes guts to write a book called Common Ground. In politics, you don’t win points by playing nice. But, folks, we’re talking about Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. Even when they’re encouraging the rest of us to get along, they do it in a, well, sort of friendly contentious manner.
Common Ground also provides a solid overview of the political history of the last three decades. This gives their views some important context, as we move from the days of Richard Nixon (whose “charisma level had the depth of floor wax, but without the shine”) through the Carter, Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton presidencies. We see how the bare-knuckled fight over the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court pushed the divide between Right and Left to new heights (or lows) of ugliness.
Thomas and Beckel don’t spare Congress. Their bill of indictment includes time that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas called the police to evict Democrats from the committee library (where they had adjourned in the wake of a hearing-room protest). They note how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid torpedoed a bipartisan effort to pass immigration reform. Almost everywhere you turn, you find policymakers on both sides of the aisle turning up the heat in a take-no-prisoners style of debate that leaves everyone bitter and angry.
Yes, we must expose evil intent, misguided policy and bad ideas for what they are. But as my boss, Ed Feulner, president of The Heritage Foundation, constantly says, we must take care not to make the attacks personal. In an inspiring speech titled “Lay Your Hammer Down,” delivered at Hillsdale College in 2004, Feulner said: “Our free, self-governing society requires an open exchange of ideas, which in turn requires a certain level of civility rooted in mutual respect for each other's opinions and viewpoints.”
As far as Thomas and Beckel are concerned, now is the ideal time to work at promoting civil discussion:
“The 2008 presidential campaign is the most wide-open race in recent history. For the first time since 1924, neither a president nor a current or former vice president is competing for either party’s nomination. At the same time, both parties are facing an identity crisis; Democrats are adjusting to their new status as the congressional majority party, while Republicans face a presidential season without their traditional party-establishment front-runner.”
But can this work in today’s red-state/blue-state America? Absolutely -- in large measure, Thomas and Beckel argue, because the famous red-blue dichotomy is a myth. Some so-called red states have elected liberal Democrats, while some alleged blue states have pulled the lever for conservative Republicans.
What matters, in the end, is how we respond to their call for civility. As they write: “So, what will it be: More combat, leading to more anger and a perpetuation of our broken political system, or common ground? The question should answer itself.” Let’s hope so.