So it turns out that the whole time Sleepy Joe Biden was hiding in the basement, he was working on a plan to render congressional Republicans irrelevant. Which, for the foreseeable future, they certainly are.
If you don’t remember — and why should you? — the GOP literally had no party platform in 2020. It was Trump, Trump, Trump. A cult of personality. What they didn’t count on was a strong majority of Americans being all Trumped-out. And so now, they’ve got nothing to talk about.
Except, oh yes, the budget deficit. A deficit that increased by 36%, leading many to doubt that it was ever such a terrible threat to begin with. Washington Republicans who stood quiet as deficits soared over the past four years are donning green eyeshades and calling themselves “fiscal conservatives” again.
And the public response is, “Yeah, whatever.”
Meanwhile, although President Biden’s crucial $1.9 trillion COVID relief package squeaked through Congress without a single Republican vote, it was unanimously endorsed by the GOP-majority National Governors Association. Unanimously, as in every single one. And don’t look now, but the governors are also pushing hard for massive infrastructure investment, the next big item on Biden’s agenda.
Something Trump yammered about for four years, but did nothing about. Exactly like his long-promised health care plan.
Hint: Neither plan ever existed.
Biden understood that congressional Republicans were stuck in Trump/McConnell mode and had no intention of seriously negotiating on the COVID relief bill, so he went big. Polls showed that upwards of 77% of Americans supported the bill, but not one GOP senator or congress member.
People, it’s hard to get 77% approval of March Madness or pepperoni pizza. And they all voted against it? Exactly what do they want to talk about, then? Oh yeah: Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.
Neither of which Joe Biden has said a single word about, but I digress.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson got it exactly right: “If Biden can’t get Republicans to vote for a bill that three-quarters of the public supports, he probably can’t get them to vote for anything. He should keep reaching across the aisle, but shouldn’t expect anyone to reach back.”
True, 10 Republican senators offered a laughable compromise bill less than one-third the size of the administration’s. Biden made nice with them, but when Lucy put down the football, he made no attempt to kick it.
As a result, by this time next year, God willing, the COVID pandemic could be a sad memory — thanks to Biden’s use of FEMA and the National Guard to supercharge the vaccine rollout. And when people are going to ballgames and concerts, when the economy’s growing and life feels normal again, any GOP plans to sandbag Democrats in midterm elections may not work out.
This bill will transform American life.
Then there’s all the stuff Biden’s not doing. He won’t help Trump acolytes stir the pot. He won’t rise to the bait. He’s not so much the anti-Trump as the un-Trump. If Biden has even mentioned his predecessor’s name since moving into the White House, I can’t recall it. Instead of being the embattled emcee of a reality TV program, he governs.
When there’s a weather-related disaster in Texas, the president of the United States shows up. He doesn’t pick fights with the governor or throw paper towels, he commiserates and offers practical assistance. When 97-year-old former Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate — a World War II hero and the living embodiment of America’s “Greatest Generation” — announced that he’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, Biden went to visit his old friend at his home. Common decency.
Trump did and said nothing, possibly because while Dole supported his 2020 reelection campaign, in mid-December he told The Kansas City Star, “The election is over and (Joe) Biden will be president on Jan. 20. I know the president has not conceded and he may never concede, but he will not be in the White House on Jan. 21.”
Meanwhile, if the former inhabitant expects the Biden White House to enlist in his constant public feuds, he’ll be disappointed. This president appears to understand that the more conflict he engenders, the more fiercely people will oppose him. So he’s dialed it down, emphasizing empathy and competence over repartee. Probably this behavior comes naturally to a 78-year-old back-patter and schmoozer.
So far it’s definitely working. People don’t wake up either titillated or dreading what their president has done overnight. And while a strong majority of Republicans think Biden somehow cheated his way into the White House, they no longer seem to feel very strongly about it. Along with strong support for his COVID relief bill, some 70% approve of how he’s handling the pandemic.
But then, Biden never promised to unify Washington, he promised to unify the country.
Gene Lyons is a columnist with the Arkansas Times.
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