Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America


Inspired by their popular USA Today column, conservative Cal Thomas and liberal Bob Beckel unmask the hypocrisy of the issues, organizations, and individuals that have created and deepened the partisan divide at the center of American politics, and make a strategic case for why this bickering must stop. Thomas and Beckel explain how bipartisanship and consensus politics are not only good for the day-to-day democratic process but also essential for our nation's future well-being. Entertaining and informative, ...

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Inspired by their popular USA Today column, conservative Cal Thomas and liberal Bob Beckel unmask the hypocrisy of the issues, organizations, and individuals that have created and deepened the partisan divide at the center of American politics, and make a strategic case for why this bickering must stop. Thomas and Beckel explain how bipartisanship and consensus politics are not only good for the day-to-day democratic process but also essential for our nation's future well-being. Entertaining and informative, funny and healing, Common Ground is a must-read for all concerned citizens.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The world of politics has always been feisty, but Beckel and Thomas assert that it's deteriorated into a partisan divide of animosity that threatens the safety and legitimacy of the country. In addition to tracing the history of this growing chasm, the authors also provide some interesting discussions about how to remedy it and why. Though some of their conclusions are a bit idealized, and even they have trouble finding "common ground" on all issues, they do identify some tactics that should be utilized by all sincere politicians seeking to better the United States. Rohan's dramatic inflection doesn't make him the best narrator for this audiobook, but he's certainly an enjoyable one. Beckel and Thomas, who also read parts of the audio, are mostly enjoyable. They falter on the final chapter, which is meant to be a dialogue between the two, but unfortunately, sounds stilted and scripted. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 13). (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Two partisans offer a timely and useful analysis of America's polarized politics. Liberal journalist Beckel (Political Strategy/George Washington Univ.) and conservative columnist Thomas (The Wit and Wisdom of Cal Thomas, 2001, etc.) together write the USA Today column "Common Ground," which gave rise to this book. Agreeing to disagree on many issues, they explore the roots of today's red/blue divide and its effects on government, explaining why a return to bipartisanship and consensus (which they hope to hasten) is already occurring. Along the way, they offer an overlong explanation of familiar issues from the turbulent 1960s through the Reagan '80s that provided fodder for political campaigns characterizing opponents not simply as wrong but as corrupt and wicked. Such demonizing, the authors argue, is the essence of polarized politics and stems from the strong partisanship of activists who are the only Americans engaged in a culture war. Activists constitute an influential one-third of eligible voters, they note, but the vast majority favor consensus. The authors are at their best when describing the "ideologues, power brokers, and bottom feeders" who benefit from a heated political climate: talk-radio and cable-TV hosts, who win higher ratings; political blogs and websites, which get more hits; and campaign fundraisers, who find it easier to raise money. They also note that many now engaged in politics simply aren't old enough to remember a time when political opponents could regularly talk in a civil fashion to folks across the aisle, reach a compromise and get things done. Offering advice on ways to achieve consensus, they predict Americans are tired of black-or-white politicalbattling and will want to elect the "most competent and least ideological" presidential candidate in 2008. Polarization will always be with us, they acknowledge-but at the fringe of the political spectrum, not the center. A welcome invitation to civility and reason.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061236358
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/19/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 642,010
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Cal Thomas, a conservative, writes a twice-weekly syndicated column and is a frequent panelist on Fox News Watch.

Bob Beckel, a liberal, is the Democratic political analyst for Fox News and a professor of political strategy at George Washington University.

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Read an Excerpt

Common Ground

How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America
By Cal Thomas

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Cal Thomas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061236341

Chapter One

The People vs. The Polarization of American Politics

Politics—I don't know why, but they seem to have a tendency to separate us, to keep us from one another, while nature is always and ever making efforts to bring us together.
—Sean O'Casey

Voters will tolerate polarization and extreme partisanship to a point, especially if it doesn't affect them directly. But by 2006, polarization was paralyzing government. It came at a time when the country was deeply divided over the war in Iraq, and facing a myriad of problems at home. After years of gridlock and extreme partisanship, the public had had enough; polarization ceased to be an insider's game, and voters rebelled in a rare "wave" election.

Wave elections are ones in which the outcome significantly alters the political balance of power. By the fall of 2006, politicians (particularly incumbents) finally caught up with the extent of the voters' anger. Republican incumbents, realizing that their party's strategy of maximizing the base, which had worked in 2002 and 2004, would not work in 2006, tried to persuade voters that they were not partisan extremists.Partisans, yes; extremists, no. Challengers in congressional races across the country attacked incumbents as members of a "do-nothing" Congress, and they put the blame squarely on polarization. Not to be outdone, even some incumbents who had engaged in the most outrageous polarizing preached the wisdom of "seeking common ground solutions." To enhance this message, candidates reached out to the two most exciting and sought-after politicians in the country at the time, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL). Neither was on the ballot, but both made the evils of polarization a central ingredient of their message. Both are running for president in 2008, and there is no sign that their message will change.

The reelection of Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman in 2006 as an independent provided one of the first campaign tests specifically aimed at polarization . . . and polarization lost. Paradoxically, polarization had forced Lieberman to run as an independent because the Democratic Party denied him the party nomination. For partisans, it wasn't enough that Lieberman had been loyal to their Democratic Party and most of its issues for three decades, or that he had been the party's vice-presidential nominee in 2000. That he differed with them on one issue—Iraq—was enough for the polarizers to dump him.

(We are not suggesting that tenure entitled Lieberman to the nomination, or that the war in Iraq, especially among Democrats, was not a sufficient reason for a primary challenge. But, as we shall see, it was the polarizing tactics in the primary that were destructive and all too commonplace in today's politics.)

Lieberman got his revenge by making party extremists an issue. He won the general election with support from Democrats, independents, and—amazingly—a majority of Republicans. Thirty percent of the antiwar voters, according to Lieberman, voted for him. For these voters, polarizing tactics that attempted to drive a decent man from office were as immoral as the war in Iraq. For several years, many mainstream Republicans had questioned if their party was too associated with religious fundamentalists. In the aftermath of the Lieberman primary, many Democratic Party leaders were raising the same questions about the party's association with a resurgent, cyber-driven left.

Next door in Rhode Island, incumbent Lincoln Chafee, the Senate's most liberal Republican, was challenged by conservative activists who wanted to deny him renomination. The Republican Party leadership in the state supported Chafee but couldn't stop the rebellion on the right, and a primary challenger emerged. Chafee survived the primary, but only after Karl Rove, who might claim a patent on polarization, engaged in a highly publicized effort to save him. Chafee was too liberal for Rove and company, but his primary opponent was too conservative for Rhode Island. In a close race for control of the Senate, saving Chafee was necessary, even critical.

In the general election, Chafee tried to reestablish his independence: "I believe that neither Republicans nor Democrats are always right. I angered Republicans when I voted against the war in Iraq, and Democrats when I voted for legal reform." But the senator's association with the country's most famous polarizer became a major factor in his inability to separate himself from an immensely unpopular president. He lost by a wide margin.

Chafee's message of independence and antipartisanship (echoed by several other incumbent Republicans) could be interpreted as a survival strategy in a bad year for Republican candidates. Such reasoning does not explain why a similar message was adopted by many Democrats, including Chafee's opponent, Sheldon Whitehead, who ran TV ads calling for bipartisanship, and this in a heavily Democratic state where such a message wasn't necessary.

The most telling evidence that polarization may be eroding comes by way of former polarizers who are distancing themselves from the practice. Most political observers agree that Newt Gingrich, formerSpeaker and architect of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, was a skillful advocate and practitioner of polarization. In fact, some, particularly Democrats, believe Gingrich was the founder of the polarization movement.

When we spoke to Gingrich in the summer of 2006, he freely admitted that polarization had been an important component in the Republicans' 1994 victory. More to the point, Gingrich agreed that it was a declining force in politics. Never one to be slow in recognizing the changing political winds, he immediately had ideas about how to end polarization. That's remarkable, considering that before our meeting, he said he hadn't given the topic much thought!

A conversation with the former Republican Speaker is an eclectic tour de force. Love him or hate him, few come away without a sense of awe. That is both a compliment to the man's intellectual reach and a criticism of the confidence and audacity with which his historical revisionism fits so tightly with his Newtonian view of present-day events. Gingrich is a self-taught historian and the author of several historical novels, which may explain his uncanny ability to convince the listener that what he thought he knew about history was simply wrong.


Excerpted from Common Ground by Cal Thomas Copyright © 2007 by Cal Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition     vii
Introduction     1
Preface: Who We are     15
"Why I Am a Liberal"   Bob Beckel     17
"Why I Am a Conservative"   Cal Thomas     23
Where We are     27
The People vs. the Polarization of American Politics     29
The Polarization of American Politics     38
"The Rest of Us"     46
Congressional Stories     55
The Parties     61
The Press, Fund-raisers, and Myths     69
The Gathering Storms     85
Storm Clouds from the South     87
A Circular Firing Squad     94
"I'll Never Lie to You"     99
Roe v. Wade     103
The Reagan Revolution     109
Storms     115
Iran-Contra and Bob Bork: The Peace Ends     117
The Politics of Personal Destruction     126
Polarization's Poster Children: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush     131
Clinton Years/Clinton Wars     134
Clinton's Revenge     143
George Bush Rides In     146
War Abroad and War at Home     151
The Way We were     163
A Change of Culture     165
When Adults Were in Charge     169
Bipartisanship     174
The Power of the Parlor     177
Common Ground     183
Common Ground: Slogan or Choice?     185
Common Ground: A Campaign Guide for 2008     193
Selling Common Ground     204
Thoughts and Conclusions     251
Epilogue     259
Acknowledgments     263
Index     265
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