I had lunch with conservative Cal Thomas yesterday. Liberal Bob Beckel was there. So were a few hundred other people in the audience at the Northbank Center Grand Ballroom in downtown Flint. Thomas and Beckel were the guest speakers for this University of Michigan-Flint sponsored "Critical Issues Forum".
I was at the company table located two tables away from Thomas and Beckel, but I think it sounds better when I say that I had lunch with my friends Cal and Bob. Makes it sound like they rolled into Flint in their road-dusty pickup and we drove down to Halo Burger for a quick bite. And when I say they are "my friends", I don't mean to imply that we have actually met. By "friends", I mean in the "we had meaningful, yet fleeting eye contact" kind of way.
Thomas and Beckel teamed up three years ago for their widely popular "Common Ground" column in USA Today. They have since co-authored a book by the same title, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America". They are on the traveling speech circuit preaching the same message of "C- c- can't we all just get along"? Which is fine by me, cuz I got the most delish salmon filet salad out of the deal.
Both Thomas and Beckel took turns at the podium. While they took playful verbal shots at each other on occasion, it was obvious that they share a warm and personal relationship and a mutual respect for each other. This is a rare thing today between individuals of the opposite political spectrum. They made the point that they were not advocating replacing debate of the issues with a chorus of "Cumbaya". In fact, they stated that there was nothing wrong with being partisan. Both stated that there was not a whole lot of issues they agreed on. However, out of their friendship arose the willingness to actually listen to what the other was saying. When responding, they found that they no longer needed to shout to be heard. They called this foreign concept, "meaningful debate".
Beckel made the point that polarization has always existed in Washington, but it was on the fringes until about 1988, whereas now it is "front and center" of our politics. I actually agreed with many of Beckel's utterances, and this was one of them. Of course, I know we would completely disagree with the cause for the rise in polarization after 1988, but Bob didn't expand on this. He did say that many in the media made a very good living out of polarization, giving the examples of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore on opposite ends of the polarization spectrum. While it was not a shocker hearing Beckel knock Coulter, it was pleasantly surprising hearing a liberal admit that Moore's movies were edited to present a picture no longer reflecting reality (that's called "propaganda" Bob). Now if we could only get an admission of the same for Al Gore's little slide show.
Beckel also called Moveon.org "un-American" for their Petraeus/Betrayus ad. He made the point that political correctness has become ridiculously extreme. I couldn't agree with this statement more! (unless any reader of this blog is offended by that, then of course, my position is "neutral"). Bob says he didn't play that game and that he wasn't afraid to bluntly say what was on his mind. Cal was nodding his head enthusiastically to this from his seat.
When it was Cal's turn, he was equally hard on the Republicans for when they had strayed. Thomas made the point that Republicans gained the majority in 1994 under Newt Gingrich and the righteous "Contract With America", but that they became arrogant with power and began spending like Democrats. The sex scandals were also very detrimental to the platform of family values, and Republicans were subsequently voted out of power. Beckel responded by stating that Gingrich was the only guy he knew that never had an unspoken thought.
The current Democrat primaries came up toward the end. Beckel refused to state his pick, but he went out of his way to be very complimentary to Hillary as being "tough". He also took the opportunity to slam the superdelegates, stating that they were not profiles in courage". He said they should quit whining about the closeness of the race, and the fact that it looked like their would be no clear cut front-runner by August in Denver. In other words, their input would be needed. "That's your jobs!," bellowed Beckel.
According to Bob, if things are still going Obama's way, he thinks husband Bill should sit Hillary down and review her 3 options.
1) Keep fighting all the way to Denver and risk race riots in the streets. (Yikes)
2) If Obama gets the nomination, the VP slot is there for Hillary if she wants it. She would have something like 2200 delegates to Barack's 2300, and he couldn't say "no".
3) Stay a junior senator under Chuck Schumer
They spoke a little on the war in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Beckel believes we should pull out. Thomas understands the scope and danger of our Islamofascist enemy, and that victory is our only option.
Enough said. They ended their presentation with a challenge to all in attendance to engage in meaningful debate with those we disagree. To actually listen to what the other is saying and attempt to find "a kernel" of common ground. I think we can begin by agreeing that this blog is the place to have these exchanges, and that I promise not to shout at any left-wing yahoos who "don't get it".