Beast Banner Sept. 7-21, 2006
ISSUE #106
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ArrowThe 51 Funniest Things
About 9-11

The BEAST 5 year fun-a-versary tribute!
Ian Murphy

ArrowThe End was Nigh
Just ask Glenn Beck & Karl Rove
Matt Taibbi

ArrowIronic Accuracy
Rumsfeld gets it exactly backwards
Allan Uthman

ArrowSemtex on a Plane
A brief guide for the aspiring terrorist
Alexander Zaitchik

ArrowJourney to the Center of
the Center

USA Today’s Commonground
Guest

ArrowOff With Their Heads
Democrats walk themselves to the gallows
Matt Taibbi

ArrowAmericans Reluctant To Help Fake-Sounding "Darfur"
Josh Righter

Local BEAST
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Opposition who?
Allan Uthman
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Journey to the Center of the Center
USA Today’s Commonground
Guest

At some point in early spring I started to read USA Today because I thought it would be useful to branch out from the New York Times. There are plenty of troubling aspects of USA Today to focus on: that they call their business section “Money,” the color graphics printed on almost every page, or that in one issue an entire section was inserted that looked like the paper, but was in fact, a NASCAR advertisement. But by far the most offensive aspect to USA Today is a column on their Op-Ed page entitled “Commonground.” The column features conservative pundit Cal Thomas and the “liberal Democratic” strategist Bob Beckel working to find “commonground” in this epoch of political partisanship. If this premise doesn’t nauseate you, a brief description of the column’s contents and contributors might bring about mild stomach pains. Seriously, the column in question is an example of political showmanship and theatrics at its best. It’s written in the form of a Greek philosophical dialogue, only absent of any knowledge, wisdom or rhetoric.

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The first thing that hits you is how neither Thomas nor Beckel seem to be paying attention to what the other is saying (which if anything is indicative of the futility of the column’s premise). Each column has the same structure: disagreement and a few jabs at each other, but somehow by the end of it they have agreed on a single point to show that there are commonalities between the two political parties. Usually at the end I’m left trying to figure out exactly how Thomas and Beckel have managed to get from the beginning to the end, but this is a natural reaction, considering how incoherent the dialogue and arguments are.

Beckel is not someone that I was familiar with before reading the column, and that the USA Today website manages to misspell his name on several occasions leads me to believe that few people who don’t obsessively follow the news would know who he is. Beckel served in the Carter administration and later acted as the campaign manager for Walter Mondale’s failed presidential bid in 1984. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Beckel has joined right-wing policymakers at the Competitive Enterprise Institute to strategize the weakening of environmental laws. His website states that he has been extorted by a criminal group and was subsequently smeared by the same Right Wing. I have done some research into this, and it’s a fairly interesting and tawdry affair, but not relevant to this discussion of “Commonground.” His website also states that he is “dedicated to the unrelenting pursuit and exposure of the right,” which is strange considering that it hasn’t been updated since May 5th and the quote of the day, attributed to Ted Kennedy, is from April 5th. As Cal Thomas is a notoriously stupid columnist and Fox News installation, he requires little introduction.

In a recent outing on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, Beckel said that he is attacked by bloggers for being “moderate, of all things.” But in reading Beckel’s rebuttals of Thomas, it is hard to see past the highly performative tone to the column, and more importantly, a lack of strong arguments to counter Thomas. The only thing that seems to occur during their printed discussion is a reinforcement of a Democratic pundit’s timid role in fielding the tired set of Conservative talking points concerning domestic social issues and foreign policy. These points of view have been aggressively recycled during much of the Bush presidency, and some obviously even prior to his time in office, but it is still exasperating to watch Beckel trip over himself to concede points in the process of finding commonalities with Thomas’ conservative beliefs, which Thomas doesn’t seem to budge an inch..

In one installment of “Commonground” about adoption politics, for instance, the point of agreement is something that not only seems a given, but also displays the bigotry at the heart of specific socially conservative viewpoints. The “commonground” found on the issue was that transracial adoption should be widely permitted. That’s their bipartisan compromise? Of course people should be able to adopt across racial distinctions, and concerning any laws of the sort, few would see them as morally sound save members of the Klu Klux Klan or another hate group. Predictably, the point that can’t be agreed on is homosexual couples’ right to adoption. Thomas argues that there is a “difference between race and behavior,” and that “homosexuals can and do change.” The question that remains after this exchange is: why would a liberal Democrat worth his salt bother to take part in an exercise that only serves to reinforce this sort of intolerance? In a different column concerning Iraq, Thomas states that the country “would move forward” on the “commonground” attained. The thing is that considering the debate over adoption mentioned, and other issues discussed by Beckel and Thomas, the country will only be moving backwards on the agreements made between Beckel and Thomas. They might find “commonground,” but only at the expense of the platform Beckel supposedly represents. If Beckel were representational of liberal politics he would be outright rejecting Cal Thomas’ claims and be calling him what his comments in the discussion of adoption make him: a homophobic bigot. The column instead seems to lend energy only to Thomas’ point of view, barely tipping its hat to liberal progressivism. 

“Commonground” is a single example of what is widely wrong with mainstream political discussion in the United States. In order to have a meaningful synthesis of ideas, opponents need to at least oppose each other (whip out your criterion Sergei Eisenstein collection and see for yourself). The talking point that the Lamont victory in Connecticut is a sign of the Democratic Party’s impending self-destruction should be taken as proof that forceful arguments provoke fear in Republicans. When Center-Right politicians decry “partisanship,” they ignore the fact that democracies run on partisan politics. The only people who are served by agreement between opposing parties are those who benefit from things as they are. If a “liberal” member of the media like Beckel were to outline strong positions in opposition to the failed Republican policies being advocated by Thomas, real progress in the country and its political discourse might actually be achieved. Then again, he might just be fired.

Beckel is criticized not because he is a terrible person (though information on smokinggun.com might make you think otherwise), but because he doesn’t actually represent the widely held views of Democratic voters. It doesn’t seem possible for someone like Beckel, or other centrist Democratic pundits on the news, to see their obsolescence and it truly calls for the need for smarter, better and most importantly more accurate representations of the Democratic party. Earlier this week when Fox’s Jon Gibson referred to the net roots’ effect on the Lieberman loss, he drew parallels between Lamont supporters and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. Similar comments were made by Cal Thomas, this time though it was the “Taliban wing” of the Democratic Party, a truly galling statement coming as it did from a biblical literalist. If illegitimate statements like this aren’t indicative of a fear that there is something attractive in a populist and progressive Democratic platform, I don’t know what is. And people other than Beckel should be gaining exposure in the mainstream media in order to make this clear.

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