If only Biden had kept his word
America elected Joe Biden as president in part to turn down the volume and bring people together. At the Democratic convention, upon accepting his party’s nomination, Biden said, “Too much anger, too much fear, too much division. Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness. It is time for us, for ‘We, the People,’ to come together.”
In his inaugural address, Biden reiterated his promise to the American people, stating, “And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear; of unity, not division; of light, not darkness. An American story of decency and dignity; of love and of healing; of greatness and of goodness.”
But that is not the Joe Biden who Americans got in their 46th president. Rather than helping America heal its divisions, his administration has promoted more rancor and division.
As president, Biden’s initial list of things to address was pretty clear: Lower the volume; tame COVID-19; bring the nation together; and manage the economy back to recovery post-pandemic. As an issues manager, Biden’s job was to decide which of these issues should be addressed first to realize three outcomes: create momentum for his presidency; shape and control the narrative; and achieve concrete results in the near term.
His befuddling first moves failed to create momentum because they contradicted his mandate from the American people. He raised the volume by attacking the fossil fuel industry and making “equity” the centerpiece of his all-encompassing social justice agenda. Instead of using persuasion and reaching out with kindness and compassion, Biden resorted to intimidation aimed to force the “unvaxxed” into compliance. He repealed, delayed or overturned every Donald Trump initiative he could, using his executive powers.
His actions created problems that grew into crises that he either ignored or mismanaged, and created chaos that has deepened divisions. The result is that, rather than building on his 81 million-vote electoral base, Biden began to hemorrhage support.
What might he have done differently?
Be a problem-solver: Biden could have called a meeting of governors to discuss best practices for vaccine and therapeutics distribution and the reopening of businesses and schools. Since Trump was effectively shut out of promoting therapeutics because of his actions, Biden could have claimed ownership in this space. He then could have rolled out a bipartisan plan to address COVID-19 and the reopening of businesses and schools. Instead, Biden chose short-term political gain by listening only to certain factions of his base.
Be a uniter: Biden could have gathered legislative leaders from the four caucuses together at the White House to discuss economic recovery in the post-pandemic environment. This could have put him out ahead of supply chain and labor issues and provided hope to the American people that we could come out on top with competitive advantages. Instead, he jumped three moves ahead, without foundation to push for the “Green New Deal” packaged as “Build Back Better.”
Be a healer: Biden could have abrogated Trump’s “Make America Great Again” messaging and combined it with his desire to make more products in America and create more, good-paying union jobs. This might have brought many Trump voters under his tent. Instead, he chose to castigate and scold Trump supporters as if they had sinned against democracy with their votes.
As a problem-solver, uniter and healer, Biden likely would have gained momentum and kept it going. But he put the cart before the horse in pushing for economic transformation before he had achieved recovery, and he has been haunted by the self-inflicted wound of not having energy independence to hedge his bet on a new green economy.
The lesson is simple: Even presidents are not immune from the immutable laws that govern successful issues management.
Dennis M. Powell, the founder and president of Massey Powell, is an issues and crisis management consultant and the author of the upcoming book, “Leading from the Top: Presidential Lessons in Issues Management.”