In Washington, most stories that make the newspapers and evening newscasts are about scandals and political infighting. Rarely is there one about redemption.
In his new book, “I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV and Addiction,” Bob Beckel, the longtime Democratic Party political operative, tells a deeply personal story about searching for life’s meaning through political power, drugs, physical abuse as a child, womanizing, hardball politics and finally a change of heart and direction.
I am asked about my friendship with Bob more than I am asked about myself. People are curious how two men who come from different backgrounds and hold different political views on most, but not all issues, could be close friends without compromising their beliefs. Partially it has to do with refusing to be defined by labels.
What does labeling people tell us about them? It is a shorthand way of defining someone that may have little or nothing to do with the true nature of the individual. In fact, the very notion of “individual” has been subsumed into group thinking. Everyone is now part of a group: Republican-Democrat, liberal-conservative, secular-religious, rich-middle class-poor, African-American, Hispanic, Native American and many more. We are supposed to think uniformly within our group.
When people wish to label me, I ask them to define the label. Usually they struggle to do so and I then ask, “Why would you want to use a word you can’t define?” By labeling people, it gives us an excuse not to take time to know them.
Bob Beckel has been branded with many labels. Most have nothing to do with the character of the man. I have known Bob for 20 years. I have traveled with him, shared meals with him and listened to him share deeply personal things, which only happens when one is a trusted friend. The real Bob is the one who rescues drunks and gets them into treatment programs; who talks about and loves his children, who cares deeply for the poor and underprivileged and who is able to see flaws in his own party, as well as in the other party.
In other words, he is an honest “liberal,” in the classical sense of that word and not the way it is used today.
In his remarkable book, Bob reveals some of his failings, challenges and temptations, not to glorify them, but to give the reader a sense of the magnitude of the grace of God, Who rescued him in his darkest hour. It is a thrilling story that will give you an entirely different sense of the man, beyond the silliness of the political world and media in which we both work and live.
Not only will you come away from his story knowing and appreciating Bob in ways you never thought possible, but this book may also open you up to the possibility of seeing others in a new light — people of a different party or persuasion from yours — as having value beyond the label you attach to them.
When we do our “Common Ground” presentation on the lecture circuit, I tell the audience that Bob is not on “the other side.” His Dad and mine were in World War II. They weren’t fighting to support or oppose Franklin Roosevelt. They fought to maintain freedom and the American ideal. If we must put someone on the other side, make it radical Islamists, who wish to destroy us.
People constantly ask me why I love Bob so much. You’ll see some of the reasons in this revealing and brutally honest book. Maybe you won’t come to love him as much as I do, but you might end up respecting him. Respect is a label we should all be pleased to wear.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).