Searching for the center

Published March 4, 2022

By Thomas Mills

Last night, Joe Biden gave one of the least partisan State of the Union addresses in recent memory. He repeatedly mentioned bipartisanship, praising the Republicans for their co-operation on things like the infrastructure bill. Most of the his applause lines got support from both parties. His speech reflected his vision of the country, a place where good people can disagree but come together around important issues to solve problems.

Biden’s view seems quaint in this era of deep partisan divisions, but he knows that we need to find a sense of national identity before we tear ourselves apart. He clearly sees the unity around the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to find common ground and begin restoring the old order. Ukraine’s Ambassador sat with Jill Biden and received extended applause. Members of both parties wore blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Biden tied the unity within the room to the unified NATO response that showed the West is less divided than many have claimed. 

Biden was also searching for the American center. He pushed back on the extremes within the Democratic Party, demanding that we “fund police.” The left flank will yell a bit, but most Democrats agree with Biden. Democrats are not extreme and they aren’t held captive by the left. If they hope to succeed in November, or even mitigate the damage, the party needs to follow Biden’s lead, disavowing policies and positions that alienate mainstream Americans.

 Both the demeanor and substance of Biden’s speech contrasted sharply with the GOP. While Biden is seeking common ground and pushing back on extremes within his party, Republicans are still beholden to their right-flank and those under thrall of Donald Trump. As Biden offered olive branches and steered clear of the most divisive issued, GOP Representatives Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene heckled the president from the House floor. 

Over the weekend, Greene and fellow wingnut Paul Gosar spoke at a White nationalist rally. The Republican House leadership declined to condemn their actions, even if Mitt Romney called them “morons.” This is the same House leadership that censured Liz Cheney for daring to criticize Trump. To the GOP, White supremacy is just not that offensive.

 At CPAC, Donald Trump continued his praise of Vladimir Putin and said that Biden was the reason he invaded Ukraine. Republicans have become the new “blame America first” party. They excuse the bad behavior of dictators by insinuating that Biden could have done something to prevent the invasion. Trump and his minions are still seeking to divide the country in an effort to rally their base ahead of the midterms.

That’s a sharp contrast. Joe Biden went before the American people seeking common ground, pushing back on people in his own party while Republicans refuse condemn White supremacy and make excuses for a dictator who jails and kills his political opponents. The left wing of the Democratic Party may be vocal, but it’s not in control of the party or driving the agenda. The GOP is still beholden to a conman with authoritarian instincts and unwilling to alienate its White nationalist base.