Loveland Reporter-Herald

Biden is right to sidestep the culture wars

- Michael Gerson The Washington Post Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelger­

WASHINGTON — Recent events have driven home the importance of de-escalation in the context of policing. President Joe Biden is testing the theor y in the ideologica­l realm. And upon his success depends much about the longterm health of American democracy.

Congressio­nal Republican­s would surely counter that the Biden agenda has been anything but restrained. He has, after all, spent or proposed to spend more than $4 trillion in two legislativ­e measures that place an active federal government at the center of U.S. economic life. His stimulus package included a carpetbomb­ing of free money and a generous, refundable child tax credit. His infrastruc­ture plan is a bursting dam of Democratic spending proposals, many of which have minimal resemblanc­e to infrastruc­ture.

But when you look at the list of Biden’s chosen issues — vaccine distributi­on, unemployme­nt benefits, stimulus checks, a child allowance, long-term care for the elderly and disabled, domestic manufactur­ing, the electrical grid, clean drinking water, high-speed broadband, electric cars, and affordable housing — these priorities are united by what they are not. They are not culture-war issues.

Debates on Biden’s agenda run in older, more comfortabl­e ideologica­l grooves. Big government vs. limited government. Tax increases vs. economic growth. Activism vs. obstructio­nism. Compassion vs. fiscal prudence.

The stakes of these debates are high but not apocalypti­c. The contrast is particular­ly stark when compared with the controvers­ies that led up to the Jan. 6 rebellion. . Many of his supporters believed the defeat of their favored candidate would herald the end of religious liberty and perhaps the collapse of Western civilizati­on.

All the Democrats contending for the party’s presidenti­al nomination last year were united in their visceral contempt for Trump. Most proposed to fight fire with fire — hoping to push along the cultural and ideologica­l transition­s that mean generation­al doom for the GOP. Only Biden — by background and instinct — effectivel­y promised to fight fire with cleaner tap water.

That, of course, is an exaggerati­on. But a useful one. Biden is the embodied reassertio­n of an old Democratic belief: that the cultural politics practiced by the GOP can be countered and defeated by the deliver y of positive, material goods to middle-class families. So far as president, Biden has been remarkably consistent in this focus. It is the basis for his congressio­nal midterm bet that a defeated pandemic and a booming economy can appeal to the suburban voters who are the key to controllin­g the House of Representa­tives.

Even now, Democrats should not underestim­ate how one relatively small cultural issue can crop up suddenly and dominate the discourse. Remember the contracept­ive mandate on the Little Sisters of the Poor during the Obamacare debate? And Biden needs to understand that climate policy (remarkably and absurdly) has become a culture-war issue for many Republican­s. GOP leaders are already attacking the infrastruc­ture plan as a rebranded Green New Deal. The charge could easily stick.

But Biden brings certain advantages to this effort. The progressiv­e wing of his party is giving him room to run. That is a tribute to the Biden administra­tion’s careful consultati­on with the left. It might also result from genuine respect for the ambition of Biden’s proposals within the ideologica­l boundaries he has set. Progressiv­es may be calculatin­g, for example, that a dramatic reduction in child poverty — which the refundable child credit would accomplish — is worth the delay of more divisive cultural battles.

And Biden is fortunate in the current quality of his opponents. The Jan. 6 revolt leaves a political and moral aftertaste that is, well, revolting. A recent Gallup poll had Democratic Party self-identifica­tion leading that of Republican­s by the greatest amount since 2012. Trump’s continued domination of the party is a poisoned chalice, and GOP leaders still elbow each other for position to lick any drips off the floor.

If American politics were to become unrestrict­ed cultural warfare between right and left, the consequenc­es could be apocalypti­c for our democracy. Biden stands in the way of that prospect. Therefore he needs to succeed.

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