In a post last week that rankled some liberals, I laid out a case that if Joe Biden were to win the presidency, he won't possess much of a policy mandate. I wrote, "he had some issues he'd talk about, but a lot of his policy messaging was about what he wouldn't do...but the thrust of his campaign was, 'I'm not Trump, who is a bad person. We need to come together and heal.' If anything, that -- governing in a broadly unifying manner -- is Biden's mandate, based on the pillars of his campaign and the election results." The one exception to this argument could be Biden implementing a national approach to containing and defeating Coronavirus, a theme he hit on frequently. It now appears his anti-COVID efforts could be hugely streamlined by the emergence of an effective vaccine developed during the Trump administration (and yes, in spite of some insane politicization from America's worst governor, and other spin to the contrary, Pfizer's Operation Warp Speed partnership is both undeniably real and a major accomplishment -- and will be an enduring piece of the president's legacy if this cure, or any of the OWS-tied vaccines, turn out to be the big cure).
I'll confess that I did not anticipate Biden would explicitly endorse my point in his election victory speech in Delaware over the weekend. The projected president-elect made mention of certain policy areas he'll focus on -- from healthcare, to "racial justice," to the "battle to save the climate" -- but his strongest emphasis by far was on the wider task of achieving healing, unity and cooperation. In case you missed it, watch:
To those who voted for President Trump, I understand your disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple of elections myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance. It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans. The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America. Now that the campaign is over — what is the people’s will? What is our mandate? I believe it is this: Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness...
...I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me — as those who did. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end — here and now. The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision. It’s a choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate. That’s the choice I’ll make. And I call on the Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me.
Twice he mentioned the word "mandate," and twice he employed it in the context of expressing a need for cooperation and decency in our politics. This did not sound like a man preparing to embark upon an extravagant or radical ideological project. It sounds like a man whose default setting after spending decades in the "old school" Senate is to cut deals and take incremental steps. It also sounds like a man who knows he'll likely have to work with Republicans, especially if the Georgia runoffs go the way they need to, and who is going to disappoint or "betray" his party's left flank on occasion. That's actually...pretty encouraging, all things considered. Now, I recognize why many conservatives may have little appetite for happy talk about coming together after the last four years -- particularly if they fixate on some of Biden's lowest moments of partisan demonization. Ari Fleischer captured this sentiment rather well in a succinct tweet:
Resist. Overturn. Boycott. Surveil. Leak. Impeach. And now they tell us it’s time to heal. Where were they for the last four years?— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) November 8, 2020
Exactly, many conservatives will say, rolling their eyes at Biden's rhetoric. And although I'm hardly naive enough to believe that we're on the brink of a "kumbaya" presidency. Strong disagreements will emerge, and heated rhetoric will fly. But I'm glad Biden adopting the approach of reconciliation and negotiation versus pretending that he has a powerful mandate to implement a Pelosi/Schumer/AOC agenda. The former is undoubtedly preferable to the latter. And as more pieces are written about the projected president-elect's relationship with the Senate majority leader, the more it seems like the next few years could end up feeling a bit like a throwback. Relatedly, I wouldn't simply assume that McConnell will allow the Senate to serve as a non-stop roadblock standing in the way of anything and everything getting accomplished; looking ahead to the 2022 map, his incumbents will want to have some bipartisan accomplishments to tout back home, and some of Pelosi's (extremely thin) majority-makers will be loudly demanding the same, over the howls of "The Squad."
I'll leave you with a lovely gesture from McConnell to Biden at the tail end of the Obama administration, which helps illustrate how the two men's longstanding relationship has a deeper reservoir of goodwill than some -- especially those who believe history started with Trump -- might imagine:
GREAT VIDEO:— Brian Riedl ?? (@Brian_Riedl) November 8, 2020
Dec 2016 - McConnell & Senate invites VP Biden to preside over the passage of a cancer research bill -- and then surprise him by renaming a portion of it after his son Beau, who had recently died of brain cancer. Biden is clearly choked up. https://t.co/IsbsqlJzZ2