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 political battling 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.