Good speech. Well delivered. Apparently heartfelt. America wishes President Joe Biden well in his vision of unity. We need it.
So, what might a strategy to achieve unity look like? It is certainly understandable to bask in the political victory for a day or two, but Biden doesn't have a lot of time before the forces against unity across the political spectrum re-establish their footing. Some thoughts.
1. The biggest divide is between the Democratic majority and the Trump wing of the Republican Party. As symbolized by the assault on the Capital, there has not been such a divide in our lifetimes. Justice and reconciliation require separating the deeds of the Capital perpetrators from the Republicans who challenged the election through legal and non-violent processes. The perps have scant support among the vast majority who cherish our democratic process; the tens of millions who questioned the election are at issue. Two suggestions:
- The second impeachment of President Trump by a Democratic House which has been focused on his removal for four years provides an opportunity for President Biden to demonstrate leadership, and to take a stand for unity by actively opposing Senate consideration. He has the added rationale and benefit that the Senate should be fully occupied ratifying his nominees and addressing legislation necessary for his agends. A decision to instead give the irate Left their pound of flesh would be an opportunity missed - and resented.
- A small bipartisan commission should address the major complaints about the November election. Facts are facts. His election needs be legitimized and shortcomings (which did not come close to determining the outcome of the election) need to be corrected. Most would trust the word of someone like Chuck Grassley on the Republican side.
2. The Trump administration did accomplish a lot - as evidenced in the list published by the White House this month. Most of the hundreds of items reflect the political differences between the parties or are puffery, but there are many which should be supported by both parties and which can serve as the basis for Biden administration policies: rapid vaccine development; criminal justice reform; progress in reducing the opiod epidemic; lowered prescription drug costs; extension of broadband in rural America; reform of the Veterans Administration; the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement; the obliteration of ISIS; recognition of Israel by its neighbors; engagement with China on trade abuses, Hong Kong, and the Uighurs. It is too much to expect Biden to support any Trump accomplishments in controlling illegal immigration, deregulation, tax policy, climate change, or civil rights, or to acknowledge the strength of the economy pre-Covid, but where there can be common ground a shout out to Trump's successes would be a welcome change.
3. President Biden will need Republican support in Congress, particularly if he is willing to stand up to the left wing of the Democratic party. The acknowledgements at the beginning of his inaugural speech - Chief Justice Roberts; Vice President Harris; Speaker Pelosi; Senate leaders Schumer and McConnell, and Vice President Pence, but not House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy - reflect either a snub for McCarthy's support of challenges to Electoral College votes, a deferrence to Pelosi in the House, or an oversight. Given the superb orchestration of the entire event, the latter explanation is unlikely. Much discussion has been directed at the 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are needed for most legislation, but the House with 221 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and 3 vacancies isn't chopped liver either. And there is a reasonable chance that in 2023 the Democratic president will be faced by a Republican House led by McCarthy. And, and... McCarthy is uniquely positioned in the Republican party to serve as a bridge.
4. Many conservatives are jaded, and view a unity vision as little more than a campaign slogan and a request for the Right to join in Democratic policies. It certainly is that for many on the Left who think that the price for return to polite society for Trump voters is an admission of Original Sin, but for the moment we should give the president a chance to be better than that. We will know within weeks whether Joe Biden intends to move from a unity vision to strategy to action.
One final thought for this week of momentous transitions: Trump's orgy of pardons and commutations as he left office represents a salute to the swamp. Sure, some were relatively low level people who received unreasonable sentences for drug charges, but the theme is politically connected felons who were convicted after fair trials for moral turpitude offenses. It should not be enough to draw a parellel to Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich or Barack Obama's pardon of Chelsea Manning. Trump supporters who responded to the "Drain the Swamp" applause line deserved better.
bill bowen - 1/21/21