In the last entry, I wrote that Joe Biden’s best opportunity to have a transformational impact on the American political landscape is his project to pass legislation with bipartisan support. Today I sketch out an approach he might use to move that undertaking forward.
Shortly before I began this post, a regular follower of my work suggested that I write the words I could see Mr Biden using in addressing the nation on the issue of polarization. As I found the idea both intriguing and intellectually challenging, I took it upon myself to compose a part of his speech. Here is my attempt:
“As I have declared since the very first days of my presidency, one of my most important goals is to work to unify this country. And, I continue to be dismayed by what we see in news reports almost daily—stories about how polarized our political debates are in today’s world.”
“I have to say that my feeling on this matter are somewhat different than what we see reported. If we consider our nation as a whole, I would contend that it is not nearly as polarized as it may appear. In fact, our polling has revealed that most Americans—some 70 or 80 percent—do not have radical stances on most issues.”
“The problem these days is that extremist elements have come to dominate the conversation, on both the left and the right. These extreme voices are less numerous, but far more vocal, than those in the middle.”
“Whenever I have traveled through this country, I have truly found that a majority of Americans are moderate. They are perhaps a bit left or a bit right of center, but centrist nonetheless. I want to appeal to those individuals, to the 70 or 80 percent of us who reject the extremes, and who are frustrated with today’s tribalism. While these people may not make the most noise, to me they represent the core of this country.”
“The type of tribalism we see these days is completely at odds with the vision of our founding fathers. While they understood that the far left and far right would always exist, our Constitution assumes a reason-based republic. As a people, we have always valued rational debate and compromise when our opinions diverge. And throughout our history, we have always been able to find the center. The warring tribes of today are pure and simply a divergence from who we are.”
“As most of you know, I had the honor of serving as a senator from the state of Delaware for 36 years. And do you know what I would consider the most important lesson of those decades? It is simply that the most successful legislation comes from building coalitions, from garnering support within both parties.
“One of my overarching goals as your president is to work with both Democrats and Republicans in an effort to rediscover the middle ground. That is precisely what I attempted to do during my entire career as a Senator.”
“Today, I would also like to reach out to the everyday Americans who tell me they are appalled by all the aggressiveness in our political discourse. It is through them that this nation can find its traditional center once again.”
Again, the words I suggest here are only a part of what the president might say, just to prove an idea of what might be possible.
So, what do I think are the chances that Mr Biden can be successful with his unity initiative? Might he truly influence the current political reality in ways that encourage the US to re-find its traditional center?
These questions bring us to my second theme for today: that truly transformational leadership an enormously difficult task.
Leaders who aspire to transformational change often meet significant resistance, since what they propose is in direct opposition to the conventional wisdom of their time. In Joe Biden’s case, both political pundits and ordinary Americans seem to be saying that the current tribalism and disaccord are simply part of today’s reality. As such, it would be logical for us to conclude that the odds are against his achieving the goal of reviving the center.
In nearly all the cases I have seen or studied, transformational leaders succeed despite the long odds they face at the outset. In the coming weeks, we will look more closely at the challenges of the president’s plan and some historical examples of transformational leadership that he might learn from.
Image: Flickr user tdlucas5000