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Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America Paperback – Bargain Price, August 19, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Beckel and Thomas, political analysts and columnists for USA Today, examine the problem of political polarization by asking, Why are you reading this book? The answer: Bottom line... you are ticked off at politics. Rigid partisan beliefs, they think, have become more than a product of opposing ideologies—they have created an environment for the sole purpose of retaining political power, raising money, or making more money... benefit[ing] a few at the expense of many. Using a mix of arguments and anecdotes, Beckel and Thomas (a liberal and a conservative, respectively) assert that polarization creates conscientious nonvoters and congressional roughhousing and deceit. The book's ultimate purpose is to disarm partisan warfare by encouraging voters and candidates to align themselves with principles that directly benefit the largest possible number of citizens. The lucid political discussion between a conservative and liberal is refreshing, but their proposals are too utopian to realistically be widely embraced. Their proposition that independent thinking can be more effective than an adversarial pack mentality is a step in the right direction, though. (Oct. 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Cal Thomas, a conservative, writes a twice-weekly syndicated column and is a frequent panelist on Fox News Watch.
Top customer reviews
I am also glad to see that they cover the history of politics. Goldwater working with Carter (post lawsuit) was interesting. All-in-all, I think politicians should read this book. Perhaps their perspectives would change somewhat.
Frankly, I found the first two-thirds of "Common Ground" to be a bit tedious at times. Beckel and Thomas rehash dozens of events over the past several decades that have contributed in one way or another to increasing lack of civility and rampant partisonship that is now so prevalant in this country. The authors point to events like the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Iran-Contra hearings, the battle over national health insurance as well as the ongoing abortion issue as among the key reasons why politics has been poisoned in our country. In addition, Beckel and Thomas correctly point out that hundreds of special interest groups have a huge financial stake in keeping the people of this country divided. I sort of figured this out a while back and refuse to contribute to these types of highly charged one issue organizations. Likewise, much of talk radio has become highly partisan and quite inflammatory and no longer lends itself to a reasoned discussion of the important issues of the day. And that's too bad! Again, those who have been paying attention will not find a whole lot of new information in "Common Ground" about the events that have caused this phenomenon of polarization to occur.
More interesting to me, however, is the last few chapters of "Common Ground" where the authors point to some key issues where they feel consensus can be reached. In addition, they make suggestions as to how candidates can sell the concept of compromise in presenting their ideas to the American people. Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas are also very big on the idea of what they call "second opinion" groups. Much like the Grace Commission that was assembled by President Reagan in the 1980's to help point out and eliminate waste in government, these "second opinion" groups could help our elected officials do a better job and as the book points out "help promote policies and actions that serve the interests of the most people, rather than the narrow and partisan interests of a select few." It is just this kind of thinking that has been sorely lacking in Washington over the past several decades.
To sum up, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America" is really not a bad book. However, if you happen to be someone who reads a lot and pays attention to what's going on then I suspect your time would probably be better spent reading something else. On the other hand, if you are one of those people who is just trying to get up to speed on some of these important issues then "Common Ground" would be a pretty good choice for you.
The first section of the books paints the picture of just how bad things have gotten in Washington by detailing some of the extreme partisan and polarizing acts from those on both sides of the isle. The authors are also quick to share the blame with pundits and 24-hour news commentators. In doing so, the authors give names and details of all they accuse. I would suggest we avoid reading or watching everyone they mention!
The second section of the book is a brief overview of recent politics (Nixon to W.), noting where and how polarization damaged progress in each of these time periods. I found the overview to be a great brush-up of modern American politics and felt like I was receiving some good insight to our political system.
Finally the authors end with a challenge for common ground. They call for politicians who will quite acting and talking so extreme simply to rile up voters and gain large campaign contributions. The authors reveal how such polarization is simply for the gain of political power and not because much (if any) of the accusations and mudslinging in valid. The authors then paint a picture of the voting public as tired of bickering and partisan ship. They point to the 2006 "wave election" as proof the American people are fed-up with a lack of progress and will punish those who abuse the system, no matter what party.
In case you can't tell, I thought the book was great. However, I do have two major complaints.
First, because this book is coauthored you can't always tell who is saying what. When the authors are writing together I completely agree with their message and call to a better, more effective way. But in the sections where the authors write for themselves, I am disappointed with how stubborn they seem to especially be. This is probably more true of Cal Thomas. At the end of the book Bob says he is pleased with how new candidates are preaching messages of unity and working together. Cal responds by saying he would need to know where they stand on every social issue before he would accept their message. To me, this was in direct opposition to what they two wrote together just chapters earlier. Also, I live in an area that prints articles by Thomas in our local newspaper. From reading some of them he seems to have slipped right back into the name-calling, mud-slinging, accusing critic this book condemns. Note: the same may be true of Beckel but I'm not as exposed to his work.
My second complaint is that the predictions in this book have simply not come true. Granted, I live in the south where politics is very one-sided, but this book (written in 2007) is filled with hope for coming years of unity being reached and extreme negative messages and polarization coming to an end. Seeing how people have talked about our president the last few years shows these authors were way off the mark.
That being said, this book helped me realize how much we the voters (myself included) add to the culture of division and polarization that exists in our country. When we choose to watch pundits who make personal attacks of those they disagree with, we are adding to the hate in our country. When we repeat negative stereotypes of all politicians rather than support those with values, we contribute to what we hate so much about those same politicians.
I would recommend this book simply because of the self-reflection it caused for me.