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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Politically-Divisive Convocation Fails to Find “Common Ground” with Students

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Political analysts and commentators Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas both took the stage during last week’s convocation, expressing their views on contentious issues that divide the United States. A liberal Democratic strategist and a conservative columnist respectively, Beckel and Thomas are long-time friends who promote the coming together of Americans with different political viewpoints, to have conversation and “find common ground” on central debates.
Thomas lamented the “poison in Washington” that involves all politicians placing their personal interests ahead of those of the United States. To him, the “polarization of politics” has been the country’s major shortcoming, for “people in D.C. don’t get anything done because in order to stay in the game you need to go after and defeat the other side. Moderates are a rare breed: they either retire or get driven out.” Beckel echoed this view: “People in Washington have trouble deciding on when’s Mother’s Day. Some Republicans really really hate Obama, and are unwilling to give him nothing on any significant piece of legislation.”

Both speakers explained their political orientations: Thomas said that “I’m a conservative because I want to preserve what works.” Beckel talked about the United States as “a village with compassionate people” that “requires all of us to care for each other.”

Halfway through the talk, both delved into specific issues, starting with “the greatest threat facing America today: radical Islam.” As Thomas elaborated on Muslim students on visas in the United States — emphasizing how nearly fifteen thousand ended up not attending colleges and universities — he began citing the major concern about “what these students are doing.” The horrific tragedy of 9/11, in his view, justified the need to pay particular attention to these “missing” Muslims. Thomas added that if the Swiss or French had caused acts of terrorism, the United States should be similarly concerned for students of those nationalities too.

Beckel followed up by reinforcing the notion of “radical Islam” as a major threat to America, and then asked if there were any Muslim students in the audience. Shortly after he asked if there were any “Chinese nationals on visa” in the chapel, he asked the one self-identified student if she “was studying computers.” Many perceived this to be a clear association of specific nationalities to certain behaviors — terrorism and cyberattacks — which unnerved the audience, and at this point many students began leaving the chapel.

Both speakers then began addressing other hot-button issues, from immigration to the national deficit. On the former, Thomas acknowledged that “yes, we are a nation of immigrants” before articulating his vision for the American population: “Don’t bring your hyphenated agendas to America. We’re all about assimilation.” Beckel commented “fixing the Southern border” and pointing out that “Republicans cannot afford to not pass an immigration bill, given that they’ve alienated Hispanics more than anything.” Again, the speakers’ discussion of immigration paired undocumented workers with Hispanics, and instilled a palpable tension and outrage in the audience.

In their conclusion, the speakers returned to emphasize the need for a willingness to see past political differences in order to make decisions that are best for America. “I admire Bob,” Thomas remarked, “because he is honest and transparent who will critique those on the left, which is rare these days. The problem we have now is if you don’t toe the line of your party, you are branded as a traitor.” He added that the huge problem in U.S. politics today is “calling those with different views as ‘the Other side:’ the Taliban should be the other side, not fellow Americans.” Beckel followed with his conclusion that “partisanship is a good thing, but polarization is wrong and corrosive. The idea that some with a different political persuasion have no good ideas is poison for our country.”

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