Words of Wisdom from Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein, Biden Is the Anti-Trump, and It’s Working: If you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

As I said, much wisdom here. I probably think it’s wise because it tends to confirm my believe that, while Obama was a terrific person and an admirable president, Joe Biden actually understands the environment in which he operates. And that understanding is a necessary condition for success. Not a sufficient condition, but surely a necessary condition.

Mr. Klein concludes this way:

Then there’s the book “Stealth Democracy,” by the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. They marshal a mountain of survey data to show that Americans have weak and changeable views on policy, but strong views on how politics should look and feel. Many, if not most, Americans believe “political conflict is unnecessary and an indication that something is wrong with governmental procedures,” they write. The more partisan fighting there is around a bill, in other words, the more Americans begin to believe something must be wrong with the legislation — otherwise, why would everyone be so upset?

Mitch McConnell understood all of this, and he ginned up political bickering to undermine Obama’s agenda. But Biden seems to understand it, too. When I talked to Bedingfield, she kept circling back to Biden’s preference for rhetoric and strategies that turn down “the temperature” on American politics. But Biden isn’t taking the usual Washington strategy toward that goal, which is to retreat to modest bills and quarter-measures. Instead, his theory seems to be that if you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

I’ve argued before that Biden’s central insight in the campaign was that negative polarization — the degree to which we loathe the other side, even if we don’t much like our side — is now the most powerful force in American politics. Biden often refused to do things that would endear him to his base, because those same things would drive Republicans wild. That strategy is carrying over to his presidency. And in part because of it, the reaction to his signature legislative package, which really is a collection of policies progressives have dreamed of for years, isn’t cleaving along normal red-blue lines.

Like any other communications strategy, this will work until it doesn’t. Biden will have his failures, as all presidents do. But for now, it’s working, in defiance of the lessons many thought Trump’s presidency taught.

Speak softly and pass a big agenda. It’s at least worth a try.