As far as I can tell, Joe Biden’s pitch for the presidency is based on claims that he can unify the country and that he is a decent person, plus the view that a President Biden would have handled the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic far more ably than President Trump has. I discussed Biden’s undistinguished response to the swine flu pandemic here. I discussed the failure of Biden and his team to grasp the seriousness of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic here.
In this post, I want to discuss the claim that Biden will unify America. I’ll begin by noting that this pitch is perhaps the most vacuous one a presidential candidate can make. A candidate who makes it either (1) wants to run out the clock, (2) has nothing substantive in mind to offer, or (3) wants to hide his agenda.
In Biden’s case, I think (1) applies. (2) and (3) may be mutually exclusive. If not, I vote for both.
The post-World War II presidential campaign that pushed the unity theme hardest was probably Thomas Dewey’s in 1948. In 1944, Dewey had run an aggressive campaign against FDR. He didn’t do badly, but thought that, running against the seemingly unpopular Harry Truman and with a big lead in the polls, he should run out the clock in 1948.
Accordingly, Dewey said very little about what he would do as president. Instead, he relied on platitudes about unity. And he matched the lukewarm nature of his message with a relaxed campaign effort that featured fewer public appearances than normal. Sound familiar?
Truman, by contrast, campaigned relentlessly during his famous whistle-stop tours. And Truman told his audiences exactly what he planned to do, if elected.
We all know how that election turned out.
Dewey might actually have been able to unify the country to a degree. His agenda wasn’t that much different than Truman’s, and at least America had something like a bipartisan foreign policy in those days.
But name a president since Eisenhower (and maybe just Ike’s first term), around whom the nation united for long. I can’t.
These days, America is probably less prone to unify than at any time during this 60 year span. Except for a brief period after 9/11, we were less united under Bush 43 than under Clinton, no more united under Obama than under Bush, and less united under Trump than under Obama.
Biden is no more of a unifying figure than Obama or Bush (I’ll concede on Trump). There is no reason to believe he would do for unity what these two presidents didn’t.
In fact, there’s good reason to believe that America would be even more divided under Biden than it is now. Biden has tilted far to the left. If he were to govern that way, resistance would (and should) be fierce. If, instead, he were to move towards the center, he wouldn’t even be able to keep the Democratic Party united. Nor would (or should) Republicans unite behind a center-left presidency.
Under the circumstances, it’s no criticism of Biden to say, categorically, that he won’t be able to unify the country. But the fact that this has become a central campaign theme speaks to the phoniness of that enterprise and to the vacuity of the candidate.