During the Democratic presidential primary, nothing seemed to haunt Joe Biden more than the charge of how totally, completely racist it was for him as a senator in the 1970s to negotiate with Southern, white supremacist segregationists. Why in the world would he even talk to such other senators as James O. Eastland of Mississippi or Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia?
Because that’s how democracy works, my fellow Americans. If you are in the Senate, you don’t ignore your policy antagonists or just simply hate them and screech about their evils or dream about their political demise. If their votes are just maybe crucial for some end you see as vital, you get along with them, make sharp arguments, probe the details for reasonable, available compromises. You try to get something done even if the best is still out of reach.
That’s what Biden did, and he helped a march forward on a foremost issue in American domestic affairs, nowhere close to what is ultimately needed, but a whole lot better than nothing. Negotiation is a major skill in the president-elect’s lap, and he will need it mostly to deal productively with Senate Republicans if they win two Senate seats in Georgia and keep control of the Senate. Otherwise, he will need it to survive extreme Democratic leftists.
Actually, he will need it to work with both camps no matter what happens.
If you think he will surely flunk, consider how an amateur president named Barack Obama was faced with breaking a Senate filibuster by Republicans on his proposed stimulus bill at the start of his administration. Three Republican senators had to agree to a vote on the measure to crush the tactic, and a Politico article tells us how Biden made 14 phone calls to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who likely sighed as he finally signed on. Biden was also a flap-jaw success with two others, hallelujah for Obama.
A Mitch McConnell-Biden brotherhood pledge is hard to imagine, but keep in mind that it’s misleading to say McConnell, then the Senate minority leader, warned two years into Obama’s first term that he wanted him to be a one-term president. His point was that he would do business with Obama if he would meet the Republicans halfway. He did not want Obama “to fail,” he said, but “to change.” It is also phony to say McConnell’s the one who has recently held back on virus spending. The Senate majority leader and other Republican members of Congress have pushed over and over for virus relief to small businesses and workers while Democrats have said forget it more than 40 times, according to a Newsweek fact-check.
To the extent that Biden is truly a centrist, a Republican Senate could suit his likings more than the whoops and shouts of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or Vice President Kamala Harris, three examples of the center not holding. He could more easily avoid packing the Supreme Court or a Green New Deal that would be worse than climate change. Either way, he knows the workings of Congress extremely well, or used to.
That’s part of the question with this new but elderly president to be, whether his mental capacities are anywhere close to what they once were, and it’s the case as well that he has already veered into a number of positions to worry about. He made an excellent speech about national unity after he won the presidential election, but blistering bias against a self-immolating working class is downright frightening as a pompous brand of upper-class ideology is saying goodbye to America’s greatness, traditional norms and belief in moral truth that does not waver.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at email@example.com.