- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cal Thomas is as reliably conservative as Bob Beckel is solidly liberal. Both are well-known veterans of decades of political combat Mr. Thomas as a former vice president of the Moral Majority and syndicated columnist, Mr. Beckel as a Democratic Party operative since the 1960s.

“We didn’t fall off the turnip truck last night,” Mr. Beckel says, in response to some who have called him and Mr. Thomas “naive” for proposing a bipartisan agenda of political cooperation in their new book, “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America.”

Despite their deep political differences, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Beckel are close friends, and the fostering of such personal relationships across ideological lines is one suggestion that they offer for healing the partisan rancor that has increasingly consumed Washington in recent decades.

The following are excerpts of an interview with Mr. Beckel and Mr. Thomas, who visited the offices of The Washington Times last week to discuss their new book:

Question: Where did the idea for this book begin?



Mr. Thomas: Well, it began with a column in USA Today a little over 2½ years ago. USA Today reported getting more positive mail than any other [column it had published]. And it was across the board — Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives. … And then we started doing this on the lecture circuit [with] mixed audiences, different political persuasions gave us standing ovations at the end. … So we said, “Let’s do a book on this, and let’s go beyond the column. Let’s do a history of how we got to where we are.” …

Mr. Beckel: Cal and I have been friends now for several years, and we began to talk about how bad the atmosphere had gotten in Washington. It seemed that he and I could sit down and talk about some issues, even though we didn’t agree — he’s usually wrong — we came up with some things that we could agree on, and at a minimum, we’re not going to argue and shout at each other.

Secondly, I think we both got into a little bit of mea culpa here, because I contributed to this polarization, certainly, when I was on [the CNN program] “Crossfire,” in a big way. He certainly did [at the Moral Majority]. … It’s gotten to the point now where things are paralyzed. …

Q: How much of the polarization is the result of the 50-50 nation?

Mr. Thomas: One of the things Bob writes about is this red-state-versus-blue-state myth. He’s absolutely right about that. This is not a 50-50 nation — there’s huge overlaps. And part of the whole concept of the 50-50 nation is this red-state/blue-state, left/right, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat [divide]. So, if you’re under this label, you have to believe the following things. … But there are a lot of people who cross-pollinate, who may be for greater gun control, but they’re still a Republican, or who may be pro-life, but they’re still a Democrat. …

Mr. Beckel: We’ve gotten into this myth of the red-state/blue-state because it allows the polarizers to keep everybody polarized. Who created the red-state/blue-state, who created the 50-50? It’s the people who control the political process who are polarizers. And we were among that crowd. We say in the book that we want to expose these guys, and we didn’t fall off the turnip truck last night. … Polarization has always been around, but it ought to get off center stage and back to the fringes where it belongs. Right now it’s dominating politics. …

Q: Between you, you’ve got how many years in politics?

Mr. Beckel: Mine’s 30; his, probably 50. …

Mr. Thomas: Get out of here. I mean, I was a reporter for years, covering all kinds of things. I started writing the column in ‘84. That was about the end of my tenure with [the Rev. Jerry] Falwell [at the Moral Majority].

Mr. Beckel: So, 50 years.

Mr. Thomas: Get out. …

Mr. Beckel: No, between us.

Mr. Thomas: Oh, between us. Yeah, 50 years. Forty-five for him and five for me. …

Mr. Beckel: The thing is, they call us naive — they’re naive, because they’re in denial. They don’t seem to get the fact the American public is waking up and saying, “We’re not red and blue. My neighbor and I — he’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican — our kids go to the same school, we may go to the same church, we may disagree on certain things.” … They don’t buy this. And the biggest thing they don’t buy is the culture war. …

Mr. Thomas: Fear and anger are the two wheels of fundraising. I asked a fundraiser once, … “Why don’t you ever send out a positive letter on what you’re doing with people’s money?” He said, “You can’t raise money on a positive letter.” …

Q: Is it a function of Washington? Is Washington driving the polarization?

Mr. Thomas: No, Washington is a victim of polarization, precisely because of the reasons he cited. … We’ve each gotten calls from bookers for television shows. And they’ll ask us our opinions on something, and it won’t be extreme enough for them, and they’ll go to somebody else. They want somebody edgier. They want two people on there screaming at each other, questioning their patriotism, and almost denying their citizenship. …

Mr. Beckel: I think Washington itself, as a place, over the years, was a place where you could get things done. But now, the polarizers control so much of it. They control the campaign committees, they control the money … and that’s the most important part of it. …

Mr. Thomas: I’ve learned a lot from Bob. I know why he believes what he believes. … Nobody in Washington knows each other anymore. This came out of our personal relationship and our realizing that the two of us were not evil, trying to destroy the country. …

Mr. Beckel: This really began [when] I was going through a divorce five years ago, very tough. Cal and I had known each other for some time. … And he picked up the fact that I was having a rough time. I saw him at Fox one day. He said, “What’s wrong?” … And then he talked to me. … He really helped me through a very difficult time. And also introduced me to his church, and to my own faith. …

Once you establish that kind of relationship, it’s pretty hard to scream at each other.

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