Talking Points

Biden's bipartisanship obsession is bordering on incoherence

It is no surprise that President Biden is attempting a two-pronged approach to infrastructure, seeking one bipartisan bill and another partisan one. He has mixed partisanship and bipartisanship his whole political career.

Thus, according to Biden, Sen. Mitt Romney is alternately an honorable man who will never break his word, or a dangerous radical who will put a predominantly African-American audience back in chains. The late John McCain was either an "angry man," or an embodiment of the American story animated by "fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor."

Some of this surely reflects the heat of the campaign versus the quiet moments afterward, such as George H.W. Bush's friendship with Bill Clinton after calling him a "bozo" on the trail in 1992. But it also reflects the culture of the Senate, where Biden served for 36 years. He is a man who throws sharp partisan elbows in public but good-naturedly tries to cut deals in private.

That's easier to do as a senator than as president, when the whole country is watching. It is made even more complicated by the fact that activist and apparently ascendant wings of the Democratic Party are tired of hearing about process and bipartisanship, preferring instead to fulfill the progressive agenda.

Consider the town hall Biden held in Ohio the same day Senate Republicans dealt a (possibly temporary) setback to the bipartisan infrastructure framework. A Democratic questioner portrayed the party as "held hostage by the utopian need to gain bipartisan support" and asked Biden, "Why is the strategy to abandon the need for bipartisanship not the right answer?" Biden responded by talking about the importance of compromising and keeping your word. Later, Biden agreed that the filibuster was a "relic of Jim Crow" but maintained that without it, "nothing will get done."

This tension bordering on incoherence was present in Biden's inaugural address, in which he both called for ending "this uncivil war that pits red against blue" and framed the political debate as a quest to "defend the truth and to defeat the lies."

Maybe this two-pronged approach can work on infrastructure. It is harder to see it enduring as a coherent governing philosophy.