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Americans have decided to give professionals a chance

President Biden speaks as he tours COVID-19 vaccine freezers at a Pfizer manufacturing site
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President Biden is the latest in a long line of presidents who promised to end the bitter division in American politics.

The first President Bush offered a “kinder, gentler” politics. He was fired after one term.

Bill Clinton called himself a “New Democrat” and embraced a “third way” alternative to both liberalism and conservatism. He got impeached.

George W. Bush called himself “a uniter, not a divider.” The country did unite after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01. It lasted one year, until the Bush administration announced the “rollout” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in September 2002.

Barack Obama famously said, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.” Nevertheless, the division got worse.

Donald Trump didn’t even try to bring the country together: He thrived on division and made it worse.

Joe Biden has pledged to restore “the most elusive of things in a democracy – unity.” He warned in his inaugural address: “Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.” Precisely what we saw on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters attempted a coup d’etat. 

Congressional Republicans are not impressed by Biden’s call for unity.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro Tweeted sarcastically, “I’m sure that Democrats are looking forward to healing and reconciliation with the millions of Americans they think are racist, sexist, homophobic bigots. Or alternatively, they’re lying and using ‘unity’ to mean ‘shut the hell up.’”

The new president’s top priority right now can hardly be called moderate. His American Rescue Plan would be the biggest surge in government spending in modern U.S. history — $1.9 trillion. That’s a million dollars 1.9 million times! “The way I see it,” the president said when he announced his plan, “the biggest risk is not going too big. It’s if we go too small.”

Congressional Republicans are wary of the Biden plan. Congress has already allocated $4 trillion in pandemic relief. “Why is it suddenly so urgent that we pass another $2 trillion bill?” asked Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. national debt is already larger than the entire U.S. economy. President Trump was never especially alarmed about big spending or the bulging national debt. Debt is a way of life for Trump. His entire business career was built on debt.

With Trump now out of office, the “green-eyeshades Republicans” seem to be coming back. After all, a lot of congressional Republicans first got elected when the tea party revolt was in full swing. They see President Biden as a typical big spending Democrat.

Biden seems O.K. with the idea that his economic rescue plan is making it through Congress with almost no Republican support. “After all the talk of unity,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, observed, “President Biden and congressional Democrats took the partisan route right out of the gate.”

When President Biden calls for “unity,” he may not be talking primarily about bipartisanship in Congress. Having served in Congress for 36 years, he certainly knows how difficult that would be. Biden appears to be talking about unity in the American public — something he may be achieving.

A January Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that each of 20 Biden policy proposals gets more public support than opposition. A majority of Americans favored 15 of the proposals, including the two most controversial ones — raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour (58 percent) and a national mask mandate (57 percent).

A Quinnipiac Poll found 68 percent support for “the Biden Administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus relief bill” (including 37 percent support from Republicans) and 78 percent support for “$1,400 stimulus payments to Americans” (including 64 percent support from Republicans when the policy was not specifically identified as coming from the Biden administration).

The only issue most Americans considered “a crisis” was the pandemic (68 percent). More Americans consider the pandemic a crisis than the economy (45 percent), climate change (43 percent) or racial inequality (41 percent). The term “crisis” is important because, in these divided times, the only policies that get support across party lines are those driven by crises.

Like the 9/11 attacks — for a solid year after the 2001 attacks, a majority of Democrats approved of the job President Bush was doing. President Trump never treated the coronavirus pandemic as a crisis. On March 11, 2020, he called it “a problem that, four weeks ago, nobody ever thought would be a problem.”

What you want in a crisis is a professional. Someone with experience. Someone who knows more than you do about solving your problem. Professional politicians have a skill. They can walk into a meeting, quickly figure out what each person’s interest is and then devise a policy that will satisfy the widest variety of interests. They are not in the business of dividing people into angry factions.

After Donald Trump, Americans decided that the country needed a professional politician. Trump was either loved or hated. Biden is respected, and that’s far more important right now.

Critics like to call Biden a “radical socialist.” The truth is, Biden doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body. Asked by a local television interviewer in Wisconsin how he would address voters “worried about socialism,”  Biden responded, “I beat the socialist. That’s how I got elected.”

Bill Schneider is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of ‘Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (Simon & Schuster).

Tags $15 minimum wage Barack Obama biden administration Biden stimulus package Bill Clinton Charles Grassley Competence coronavirus aid coronavirus pandemic Covid relief COVID-19 vaccinations Donald Trump experts George W. Bush Joe Biden mask mandate Michael Burgess opinion polling Political positions of Joe Biden Professionals

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