Unity is Overrated
During the primaries, Joe Biden was my penultimate choice, just above Tulsi Gabbard. More than his “centrism”, I’ve never been impressed by his obsession (in my view) with the value of “bi-partisanship”. Once he was nominated, though, I sent post cards and texts to my fellow Ohioans in his support. But he still worried me as a candidate…he kept calling for unity.
A part of me gets it. Even on my “left of center” Face Book groups, there’s a lot of language about “reaching out to the other side” and unity. One post promoted a group that’s devoting itself to creating conversations among liberals and conservatives with the goal of finding common ground and reducing division. All to say, that many of President Biden’s supporters find his calls for unity to be soothing. That’s a sentiment that is understandable after four years of Trump’s unrelenting and toxic divisiveness.
Last night my wife and I watched Rachel Maddow, as we pretty much always do. Sometimes I fall asleep during her show but I took notes during this episode. Maddow related the tale of the seemingly endless naivete of the Obama administration as it sought engagement with the GOP in passing first a stimulus bill, then the ACA, then an immigration bill. In every case, the opposition was duplicitous and negotiated in bad faith. In every case, the Republicans reneged on their commitments and voted against legislation that they promised to support, once their demands were met. In every case, the administration compromised aspects of their proposed legislation in efforts to get GOP votes. I need to be clear about that…in every case, Americans were harmed by the desire of Democrats for “unity” and “bi-partisanship”. So when Vice President Biden (and, to be fair, other nominees) touted their commitment and ability to “work across the aisle,” what I heard was, “I’m going to get kicked in the groin by Democrats more eager to be friendly with those who seek to do me harm than they are to address my community’s needs and interests.”
We’ve all been heartened by recent language from voices across the political spectrum indicating that there’s to be no unity until there is accountability for the white nationalist terrorism that occurred on January 6 and for those who aided and abetted it. When Mitch McConnell and Ohio’s own Rob Portman go public with renunciations of vile racist Marjorie Green, that’s worth noting. I’m glad that we can all agree that advocating for the murder of one’s elected colleagues is, perhaps, a bridge too far.
I’ve also been fairly pleased, so far, with statements by important Democrats insisting that, while bi-partisanship is desirable, getting the job done for working families is the first priority. The flurry of executive orders signed by President Biden has ruffled the feathers of the right while fulfilling campaign promises (a double win, in my view).
The right, of course, hopes to use Biden’s own calls against him. We know that their view of unity includes seeing the Democrats forgoing their entire campaign platform and going back on any and all of the promises they made for which 81 million Americans voted. That, of course, is one of the problems of including “unity” as a plank in one’s campaign platform: once you get elected, the other side feels that it gets to define the term.
I worry that Democrats will find those definitions persuasive. There’s evidence that the Obama administration did just that to the detriment of the country. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.