Every other Thursday, I look forward to picking up a copy of USA Today and reading the “Common Ground” column co-written by Bob Beckel , a veteran liberal Democratic activist, and Cal Thomas, a noted conservative columnist. The column’s descriptive blurb tells us that in spite of their political differences, the two are longtime friends and can often find agreement where politicians cannot. In today’s cutthroat political environment, I find this approach to be not only refreshing, but absolutely vital to our nation’s future.
The scenario is all too familiar: A conservative politician will announce a new terrorist threat or a liberal will promote new research on global warming. In either case, the actual substance of the issue is largely ignored. Instead, the opposition party will immediately begin a campaign to discredit the other side. After all, we can’t let one of “them” take credit for doing something positive for our country. All the while, the people’s safety and best interest are sacrificed at the bloody altar of “gotcha” politics. Does that disturb you? It should.
I am a conservative on most issues. Yet I want to see an end to war, poverty and racism just as much as my liberal friends do. While we may disagree on some of the means to these noble ends, we can be civil and charitable in our discussion of them. Furthermore, I recognize that apart from those on the left, these vital issues might not even be discussed.
Please don’t misunderstand: I am not advocating a superficial, “warm-and-fuzzy” type of unity. I recognize that the differences are there, and that they are often quite significant. Nor should civility be used as a front for lack of passion or conviction. There are times when a non-compromising attitude is both commendable and necessary. But compromise is not always a bad thing. In fact, it would be impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile without it. For example, if our only available options are helping some poor people or helping none, reducing some greenhouse gasses or reducing none, preventing some abortions or preventing none, aren’t the choices pretty obvious?
As a former professor of mine pointed out, it is possible to be opponents without being enemies. Examples would include Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Another would be President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. More recently, we have been seeing former Vice President Al Gore’s innovative TV ads addressing global warming and climate change. Did you ever think you would see the Reverends Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton on the same platform? What about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her predecessor, Newt Gingrich? While I am no fan of Gore’s politics, I commend him for seeking to heal the partisan divide in this manner.
I realize that I walk a thin line here, as I write primarily about religiously themed issues. As a self-professed “theology geek” (and recently ordained minister), that is simply “what I do.” I feel that this is an important contribution, as practically every major issue we face can be traced back to what one believes about God and ultimate reality. However, as one who does believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth (and that truth, by nature, is a divisive thing), there are challenges involved in making the point in a way that avoids creating unnecessary division. In biblical terminology, that is called being a “repairer of the breach.”
In our current Presidential race, I was initially a supporter of Gov. Mike Huckabee. I saw him as a man of integrity who shared many of my political convictions, yet was willing to think “outside the box” on other issues. Now that the nominees have been decided, I must admit that Sen. McCain has showed many of the same qualities I admired in Huckabee. Despite the rantings of the pseudo-messiahs on talk radio, I see McCain’s independent streak as a positive thing.
Our two most recent presidential administrations have been among the most contentious and divisive in history. The next president, whomever that may be, will have a real opportunity to act as a healer. Let us hope that opportunity will not be squandered.