HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

October 22, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


You may not know this but Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel have written a book together, titled Common Ground, in which they denounce political partisanship. Their thesis is that current hostilities in the American politics come primarily from people who have a vested interest in keeping culture wars going, and that if people would simply sit down in a friendly atmosphere and talk over their differences, many of them would disappear. They use themselves as examples. Coming from different sides of the political debate they, nonetheless, manage to remain friends and to respect one another.

It's a nice idea. But it has one major drawback. It's not true. I have nothing against courtesy in political arguments. If it can be attained it's a good thing. But when, for example, when you're discussing killing somebody, or some large group of somebodies, with a person who is avid for the killing when you think it's unjust, your differences are not likely to sink into common ground. People who want to kill and those who don't are on different sides of a wide divide. It's not easy to jump across. And there's not much desire to do it either.

What common ground am I supposed to find with a guy who wants to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran? What common ground is there with someone who thinks we should torture anyone we suspect of having ties with terrorists? How do I compromise with people who think the right of habeas corpus has been rendered obsolete?

Sure, if there's a guy down the road who thinks we should spend our tax dollars on road repair when I think they should go into an improved water system, he and I may be able to work out a friendly compromise. But that's not the kind of difference at the heart of national politics right now. I wish it were.

We should all be for finding common ground when there is common ground. But when it doesn't exist, what do we do then? I would like Thomas and Beckel to answer me, but I doubt they will.

The 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night about forest fires in the West was scary. These conflagrations are getting worse every year and they're now reached the point that they can make vast stretches of land sterile for generations. Furthermore, it's clear that there's no way to stop them.

I watched a panel discussion on American security systems featuring Amy Zegart, a professor of public policy at UCLA, who has a new book titled Spying Blind. After she spoke, there were a number of questions, most of them complex and recondite. But nobody asked the question I would have asked had I been there: if there is an ever increasing desire around the world to blow up the United States, can any security reform make us safe?

On the weather front, it continues to be astoundingly warm here in Vermont. We are now almost out of October and there has been no frost at my house yet. It's a pleasant local condition but I fear it portends something worldwide that's not nearly so pleasant.

I'm in the midst of reading Howard Kurtz's Reality Show, a history of recent developments in the network news organizations. There's not much in it that's overly surprising. It's composed mostly of details involving events I knew about already. The book does, however, make me more aware of something I had suspected. Most of the big names in network news don't have interesting minds. They may well be nice people with generally good impulses -- Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, for example. But few of them are likely to say anything that would make me want to walk into the next room to hear it. Brian Williams is, perhaps, an exception and that could be the reason NBC stays at the top of the ratings. If that's the case, it's a good sign.

Send us your thoughts. We need them to enliven our discussions. I keep thinking back to a few weeks ago when Richard Norsworthy got really mad at me. That was a high point for the Harvard Square Commentary.


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