Joe Biden started his presidency by repeatedly calling for healing and unity. Republicans are already more than eager to use those words against him.
A radical leftist agenda in a divided country will not help unify our country, it will only confirm 75 million Americans biggest fears about the new administration
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 22, 2021
Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted the above earlier today, echoing a now tired GOP refrain throwing Biden’s calls for unity back in his face. How can Biden possibly hope to unify a country in which so many people didn’t vote for him, Rubio wonders?
Forget the complete absurdity of the senator’s argument. Forget than 81.2 million Americans voted for Biden and his agenda, which is 7 million more than the 74.2 million who voted for Donald Trump. And forget that Rubio’s making his argument in in bad faith—after Trump’s election in 2016, Republicans used their majorities to ram through judicial reform and never once stopped to ponder whether or not it would hurt the feelings of the millions of Americans who’d voted against Trump. There was no consideration of Democratic or liberal fears about Trump, even though virtually all of them winded up being justified.
Rubio et. al. are simply making a political play and betting it’ll work. As Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post, “Republicans are banking on a pathology of the press in which the media will place the entire onus of unity on Biden.” The GOP has always known that the corporate press, in its interminable effort to represent both sides, will ask Biden and other Democrats if they’re willing to meet Republicans in the middle on economic stimulus legislation and other major issues facing the United States. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders received that very question a couple days ago and turned his response into a social media video.
The bottom line is: We’ve got crises.
We should hear what my Republican colleagues have to say, but we are not going to spend months and months and not address the incredible pain millions of families are experiencing. pic.twitter.com/PvEfMEDfHu
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 20, 2021
As Sanders correctly notes, the “middle” on an issue like climate change isn’t some equidistant point between where Republicans and Democrats stand on the issue. The same can be said of almost every other major crisis right now, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Democrats have been calling for major economic relief since last spring, but Republicans only came around to the idea when it was politically expedient. Now that Biden is in office, they can use the president’s enthusiasm for further economic stimulus as evidence of a “radical left agenda” that spends money like water, as if that money isn’t being used to help clean up a series of messes left behind by the previous administration. But the question Sanders answered is a perfect example of the bunk both-sides framing so frequently used by national political journalists and programs. It almost always flatters Republicans and puts the impetus on Democrats to move toward them.
On its face, Biden’s task is typical for a Democratic president: repairing the damage done by an outgoing Republican. But the problems he’s actually charged with fixing are far bigger and more vast than incoming presidents before him. He’s dealing with a global pandemic that’s on pace to kill more than a million Americans and a devastating economic crisis that has shuttered countless small businesses and left millions without income. That’s to say nothing of the ongoing threat of climate change and a completely broken healthcare system that’s totally unequipped to deal with its current overflow of patients.
None of this matters to Republicans like Rubio, of course, who will take offense to any attempt at addressing or fixing these problems. It’s how they operate in opposition, and the only way they can reasonably come through on their baseless claims that a Biden presidency and Democratic control of Congress would ruin America. It’s only in their playbook because they know it might work with a little media cooperation. But no matter how much the press plays along, the Biden administration can’t afford to get caught up in a rigged rhetorical game.