What a pleasure it was to watch a real president give a truly thoughtful address to Congress, America and the world on Wednesday night.
Repeatedly, President Joe Biden addressed Congress as "all of you," seeming to project a day when we won't recognize congressional gridlock by blue or red, Republican or Democratic.
Biden was giving Republicans the benefit of a doubt, believing perhaps that if he thinks higher of them than all their no votes and threats of no votes to his initiatives — even the first one, the $1.9 billion coronavirus stimulus plan that significantly accelerated the pace of bringing 220 million shots to arms in slightly more than three months vs. the sluggish rollout by the Trump administration — then we Americans might yet see bipartisanship conducted on our behalf.
Biden needs that bipartisanship — defined here as thoughtful lawmaking — as much as we do. His second spending plan, a $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal, has received bipartisan criticism, but not support.
Of that plan, Biden told Congress on Wednesday: "[Chinese President Xi Jinping] and other autocrats think that democracy can't compete in the 21st century with autocracies — it takes too long to get consensus."
The president waved his arms and turned as if to eye every lawmaker in the chamber: "There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can't be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing."
Unless, of course, Congress — and particularly the GOP — wants them to be built in Beijing and show Xi and other autocrats to be right.
Biden's third initiative, a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, would build the infrastructure of people — workers and families — by expanding government spending on education, including pre-K and community college; access to health care and access to child care.
In all for these three plans, he's asking for $6 trillion — a figure the GOP decries as astronomical. Never mind that their $1.9 trillion in tax cuts for the rich in 2017 cost the U.S. treasury about $20 trillion — enough to pay for Biden's COVID stimulus, infrastructure and families plans three times over. (More on that Sunday; watch this space.)
But back to Biden's address — a well-crafted, cerebral, thankfully low-key one compared to the horrifying "American carnage" days of recent history.
Our 46th president knows the GOP's penchant for claiming "fiscal conservation" when it suits their whim. (Note, that "whim" would be any time a Democrat is in the Oval Office). But Biden also knows how to read Americans.
Biden sees that middle America hungers for education and health care and family prosperity — not another record shattering corporate profit or another Ted Cruz vacation to Cancun when climate change whips up a four-day ice storm in Texas.
Biden sees that the polls show Americans are growing more comfortable with government spending these days. After all, we've seen how letting the market handle things has worked out: Skyrocketing lumber prices, thanks to Trump tariffs and the pandemic, have added about $24,000 to every new home built.
So Biden is, in his own words, going big. He's pitching initiatives that will spur growth rather than be seen as giveaways. He's investing in our children and their futures, not just band-aiding the latest rounds of poor standardized test scores. He also talks kitchen-table language: "Let's start with what I will not do. I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000." Biden says his planned tax increases would, in fact, apply to only three-tenths of 1% of all Americans.
Yes, these are all lofty goals that collectively make for a long, uphill climb for Biden to win, especially given our divided and entrenched Congress. But make no mistake, Biden has picked a shrewd fight that will leave Republicans bruised if they can't find a way to that sweet spot of meeting him — and Americans — halfway.
As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake wrote Thursday: "A cynic might suggest he's putting forward popular ideas that probably won't pass and challenging Republicans to kill them. But either way, Wednesday's speech threw down the gauntlet for the next three years of legislative battles."