By all accounts, Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel should be mortal enemies.
Thomas is a conservative columnist and author; Beckel is a liberal commentator and Democratic Party operative. Thomas sings the praises of Ronald Reagan; Beckel ran Walter Mondale’s campaign against Reagan in 1984. Two men could not be more politically opposite.
Yet, for nearly two hours, the close personal friends complimented each other, spoke of their mutual love for America and discussed common solutions to serious issues. The presentation, entitled “Finding Common Ground,” captivated a packed house in the Lord Conference Center Oct. 1. It was hosted by UMHB’s College of Humanities and the Institute for the Humanities.
Dr. Derek Davis, dean of the College of Humanities, introduced the nationally-known political titans.
“One very liberal Democrat and one very conservative Republican are going to talk about common ground, how we can move from partisanship to bipartisanship in American political life,” Davis said.
Thomas explained how the two decided to pursue bipartisanship.
“We sat in a green room one day, the room you sit in waiting to go on the air, and we saw two people of different political persuasions fighting on the air,” Thomas said.
Thomas ridiculed such partisan bickering, contrasting it to the mindset of most people.
“Real Americans don’t live this way,” he said.
Beckel agreed, accusing wealthy special interests of stoking political conflict for their own gain.
Calling them “cheap bums with money who keep the process going because they want to maintain their own interests,” he urged the audience to look past partisan rhetoric.
“We don’t believe there is an issue facing this country where people of good will can’t find common ground, and if they don’t find common ground, at least they don’t leave angry,” Beckel said.
Thomas and Beckel examined a wide range of current political topics, finding common areas of agreement while sticking to their principles.
Discussing the financial crisis, Thomas ridiculed the $700 billion bailout package that had been proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson while Beckel lamented the bailout but ultimately considered it necessary to stave off an even worse catastrophe.
On energy, Beckel argued for expanded alternative fuels while Thomas agreed on the need for more alternative energy and the necessity of both parties to work together for change.
“We’re not enemies. We’re fellow Americans. We know what needs to be done with energy,” he said.
The message of bipartisanship resonated with Belton resident Philip Smith.
“I thought they brought a lot of insight into the real cause of the problem and some good discussion on how people should be able to work together and put themselves above politics and party,” he said.
The presentation turned personal at a few points. Thomas castigated fellow conservatives who questioned the patriotism of liberals like Beckel, whom he passionately defended.
“Patriotism is not the sole and exclusive property of conservatives. It belongs to all of us, because we love our country,” Thomas said.
Beckel spoke warmly of his friendship with Thomas, who helped him at a difficult point in his life.
“The first person who came to my side and stayed with me is sitting here on this stage with me tonight, not because he’s conservative and I’m liberal, but because we’re friends,” he said.
Most of all, the two stressed their message of bipartisanship and finding common solutions.
Senior political science major Tara Woodruff was encouraged by the discussion.
“If they can, who’s to say Barack Obama and John McCain can’t go out for a round of golf in November?” she said.