The Macomb Daily

What’s good for Joe Biden is bad for the country

- Clive Crook is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist.

President Biden has a choice to make about the next two years, and it boils down to this: What’s more important, being a successful president, or leading his party to victory? Sadly for the country, these goals can’t be easily combined.

In his State of the Union address last week, Biden showed that he has chosen campaignin­g over governing. He didn’t invite Republican­s to join forces on points of agreement and seek incrementa­l progress where possible. Mainly, he set out to provoke and embarrass his opponents — and succeeded. Ritual calls for bipartisan­ship were issued, but they were transparen­tly insincere.

The sad part is not just Biden’s choice — he is a politician, after all — but that his decision makes a certain kind of sense. U.S. politics is increasing­ly a contest between committed progressiv­es and committed conservati­ves. I sit with much of the country — I’m guessing a plurality — in the moderate center, impressed with neither side and profoundly bored with the game. Neither party’s main goal is to appeal to this center. For what might be good tactical reasons, it’s more productive to enthuse your supporters and (which amounts to the same thing) enrage your critics.

Good government and pragmatic centrist compromise have much in common. The politicall­y engaged have little appetite for either.

Biden’s stunt over the future of entitlemen­ts was emblematic. He said Republican­s want to “sunset” Social Security. The suggestion that any Republican­s, let alone most Republican­s, want to shut the program down was a distortion that provoked, presumably as intended, derision and rebukes on the GOP side. Biden then maneuvered his braying opponents into an ovation: “Let’s stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them. We will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.” It was high-fives all round in the White House, apparently, as officials watched the president stick it to the enemy.

Thus did campaignin­g win out over governing. It so happens that the Social Security and Medicare programs are on track for technical insolvency — a readily solvable problem, by the way, provided it’s recognized and dealt with promptly. Back in 1983, in somewhat similar circumstan­ces, Biden voted for Social Security amendments proposed by the Greenspan Commission, which balanced the books in part by gradually raising the retirement age. Some such solution, involving a combinatio­n of tax increases and expenditur­e cuts, will be required again. The sooner it’s undertaken, the less disruptive it will be.

Biden could have proposed a new commission to study the options for maintainin­g the programs. He judged it better to ignore the problem, entrench paralysis, and grin over the Republican­s’ embarrassm­ent.

The president also applauded his success in engineerin­g several bipartisan agreements during his first two years — most notably, the $1 trillion infrastruc­ture bill (which progressiv­es held hostage for months before it was eventually passed). But he cast these measures less as genuinely joint accomplish­ments than as progressiv­e victories over Republican skepticism and as down payments on more radical tax and spending programs he remains committed to.

“Finish the job,” he kept saying. What he appears to mean by this — an endless list of new spending commitment­s and rules to rein in rapacious private enterprise — is plainly incompatib­le with bipartisan­ship. That’s the point. He knows that legislatio­n can’t deliver this agenda now that Republican­s control the House. But if the political center can’t bring itself to take an interest, there’s political advantage in making absurd demands, being furiously rebuffed, and getting nothing done.

Democrats will ask: What’s the point of seeking compromise with today’s Republican­s? A fair question. And the logic works the same for the other side. Neither party actually wants compromise, and both are delighted to accept the results for the way the country is, or isn’t, governed.

In the end, no doubt, we moderates are to blame. The politicall­y engaged — progressiv­es and conservati­ves alike — can justifiabl­y tell disgusted centrists with no strong partisan attachment­s, don’t expect the government to work as you would like if you can’t be bothered to participat­e. That’s the problem in a nutshell. The center is disenfranc­hised, partly by its own lack of conviction.

Its power subsides, the political temperatur­e goes up, the quality of government goes down, and the cycle repeats.

Once upon a time, politician­s such as Joe Biden did actually seek bipartisan­ship and were a countervai­ling force. Those days appear to be over.

 ?? ?? Clive Crook
Clive Crook

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