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All together now

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All together now

Whether it’s a President Obama or President McCain, voters want a national agenda, not a partisan one, as we move forward.

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. They co-wrote the book Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America

Today: After Election Day, then what?

Commonground30Cal: I know you are salivating at the prospect of having Barack Obama in the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leading a strong Democratic congressional majority, especially if Democrats have enough Senate seats to block a Republican filibuster. But let me remind you of the maxim about absolute power and corruption. Too much power in the hands of either party can be bad for that party and worse for the country. See: The GOP.

(Alejandro Gonzalez, USA TODAY)

Bob: How can I forget? History tells us that divided government — with one party controlling the White House and the other Congresshas produced some legislative achievements, but little consensus. That's why Democrats — if they win the White House and control Congress — would be wise to drink punch rather than booze on Inauguration Day. We've already witnessed what a party looks like when it's drunk with power. It ain't pretty.

Cal: I am concerned that some of the far-left kooks, such as those aligned with and ACORN, will demand and get too much power in an Obama administration.

Bob: Right. And Obama will force every American to become left-handed, too. Here we go with the conspiracy rumors, and we haven't had the election yet!

Cal: I'm dealing in what they say. In a YouTube video, Obama can be seen promising ACORN members and other "community organizers" policy input ahead of his coronation — I mean, inauguration! That would jerk this still center-right country too far and too quickly to the left. In peacetime, I might wish for something like this to happen so that Republicans might mount a counterrevolution revolution, but with two wars and a limping economy, we can't afford that kind of political game-playing.

Bob: Notice that Obama uses the word "input" into policy decisions. When crafting policies, Democrats and Republicans seek input from outside organizations. That does not mean these groups will be writing policy. Usually, that is. Consider the Bush administration's handing over of legislation to special interests the exception, rather than the rule. 

Cal: My point, Bob, is that if Obama is president, I have very real concerns that he'll abandon even the pretense of being a centrist and drive this country to a place it has never been. He talks a good talk, but will he deliver? As some polls have begun to show him pulling away, you're hearing the word "socialist" being attached to him. There's the fear that his "change" mantra is not about changing the direction of the country, but its fabric. I sense that as people begin to see him as the inevitable president, more people are stopping to think, "Wait a minute. Who exactly are we getting? And what will he do as president?"

Bob: Let's step back for a minute. First, the polls notwithstanding, we won't know until Tuesday night — presumably — who our next president will be. Second, if it is Obama, you're talking about a very smart man. Even his staunchest critics must acknowledge that. And even if he has a mandate after Tuesday, he will not squander it by doing a 180-degree from his campaign rhetoric and governing as Karl Marx. That's what Republicans want folks to believe, but the polls show that people aren't buying it.

Cal: I'd settle for Groucho Marx! People worry about his "spread the wealth" comment, and the idea that he might not be strong enough on national security. These are big issues, and real concerns.

Bob: People are always a little worried about a new president. Lots of people worried about John Kennedy and Harry Truman when they moved to the Oval Office. I'd add Abraham Lincoln to that group. The fact is we can never be certain how a new president will respond in office. One thing is certain: Obama and John McCain carry some risk. But given the deep desire for change in the country, Obama is considered the least risky and the one most likely to change the direction of the country.

Cal: I can't resist: Barack Obama is no John Kennedy, Harry Truman or Abe Lincoln! If Democrats take it all on Tuesday, some will no doubt think there is no need to find common ground with Republicans. They will be tempted to treat Republicans like those on the losing side of a military coup and place them in the political equivalent of a prison. Republicans are going to feel likerefuseniks did in the old Soviet Union — without power and without much freedom.

Bob: Pardon me while I grab a tissue to wipe the tears away from my eyes. I don't believe Democrats, even with big majorities, are going to shove anything down the Republicans' throats. If the American people, who are rightly angry, have made anything clear in the past year, it's that partisanship is a loser.

Cal: I have a three-word response to that: Pelosi and Reid.

Bob: You forgot the fourth, most important word: Obama. For any policy to have the widespread support of voters, it needs to be seen as a bipartisan effort. That's just smart politics. Let me remind you that within those Democratic majorities are lots of conservatives who will not be intimidated by a liberal leadership. Any policy change that is too far left will lose the support of these "blue dog" Democrats.

Cal: I hope you're right, but I am also worried what a huge Democratic majority would do to the First Amendment. Liberals, especially, have strongly hinted they would like to shut down talk radio by restoring the "Fairness Doctrine," which existed in a totally different media environment with far fewer outlets for divergent views. You would oppose restricting free speech in this way, wouldn't you?

Bob: I do not wish to restrict free speech, nor do I think most Democrats in Congress are for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Cal, I know we could run down a list of the "what ifs" regarding a Democratic president and congressional majority, each scarier and more unsettling than the last, but the Democrats want the best for this country, just as the Republicans do. The only difference is the vision for how we get there. It's worth remembering that fact just days ahead of the most recent "most important election of our lifetime."

Cal: It's also worth emphasizing that the race is dead even until the polls open on Tuesday. Our conversation on Wednesday very well could be about how a President McCain will work with a Democratic Congress.

Bob: Of course.

Cal: But whatever the outcome, I hope that people on my side of the ideological divide won't start working to undermine a President Obama, and I would have the same hope about your side should we elect a President McCain. We had enough people, in 2000 and in 2004, saying George W. Bush "isn't my president" and threatening to move to Canada or overseas. If the Republicans lose, I hope the party accepts defeat more graciously. Though they would benefit from self-examination.

Bob: Hear, hear.

Cal: It is in the interest of all Americans to recover from this housing and monetary downturn and to end these two wars in a way that will solidify freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan and restore our financial strength. Anyone wishing for anything less cares less about the country. They prefer partisan advantage at the nation's expense. Let's hope the country can unite behind the new president.

Bob: The old World War II adage seems appropriate here: We are all in this together. A healthy economy and a successful foreign policy benefit everyone. We have big decisions to make in everything from Iraq to health care. Both parties need each other on board to sell new ideas and a new direction to the voters. A Democrat or Republican plan alone will never attract the broad-based support these new proposals demand. It is smart politics to find allies, even among those you may not need.

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