Covid-19 is urgently page one news. It has led and continues to lead the alerts and the breaking stories. The choice of a person to preside at the pinnacle of government power from 2021 to 2025 has, as a news story, been secondary.
The secondary story’s essence: Joe Biden, the virtually certain nominee, talks to Bernie Sanders who “suspends” his presidential campaign. Numerous angles were speculated, but the most frequent suggested Biden had taken a further turn to the left to assure his success.
One commentator concluded that never before has a loser had such a profound impact on a winner. Who knows, only time will tell if the commentator’s conclusion is correct. If he is, then President Trump is likely to have four more years.
Bernie Sanders was an angry candidate appealing to a universe that had at best an equivocal view of America’s economic North Star, capitalism. Most telling, Sanders ran for the nomination of the Democrat party as a Democrat-Socialist.
Anger is not Joe Biden’s political fuel. He, by all accounts, is a gracious person. Bernie’s fuel is also Trump’s, although the latter’s bogeyman has been the establishment — the Deep State. Trump will get some of Bernie’s vote as he riffs on hard blue’s notes and lyrics. Amusingly, he will have to reclothe the establishment — you cannot dominate a political party, serve a term as President, and remain an outsider.
But, let me turn back to Joe Biden. What will a majority, or a winning plurality of voters want on November 3, 2020?
We will still be shell-shocked. Covid-19, and it’s trail of destruction, will continue to be in the front of our mind. Healing is the first word that comes to my mind. We will want recovery and a sense that the State, deep or not, is both stable and prepared — competence is preparedness.
I also believe a majority of likely voters will want an alternative to anger and its often self-defeating pathologies. President Trump’s anger looks for targets, followed by accusations. Regardless of his policies, his temperament is depleting. Trump portrays his villains as the swamp. In fact, his villains are those that disagree with him and his tactics recall the belittling jargon of junior high school.
Sander’s villains are companies, which is to say organizations of people who invent, produce, market and distribute. The pharmaceutical industry is “corrupt”, he yells. His anger is neither careful nor calm.
Joe Biden will be said to be too old, forgetful, and as the campaign enters its final stages, the damming rhetoric will suggest he needs to be institutionalized, not chosen to lead The institution. The left portrayed Ronald Reagan similarly.
In the next month the presumptive nominee’s actions will be telling. Will he choose a running mate that can both shoulder important burdens and potentially step into the big job? His choice of a running mate will be defining. Recall: John McCain was defined more by his choice of Sarah Palin than his considerable accomplishments.
Will Biden prevail in the drafting of the Democratic Party’s platform or will the platform be another turn to the left? Will it be derivative of somebody else’s viewpoints? In short, can Joe Biden project beyond having been Barack Obama’s Vice President or the default choice of millions of Democrats who understand and support capitalism? If he can, he will appeal to a lot of center-right voters who are tired of the demeaning politics of anger.
And let me not leave out the persistent center-of-attention, Donald Trump. He faces a challenge considerably greater then a reopening the economy narrative. Millions of people whose principal relationship with the federal government has been the payment of taxes are now trying to work through various new programs such as expanded small business loans or unemployment insurance and many are finding it a nightmare of phone and application entanglements. How will they size up the Trump Administration?
On the public health side, the President has way too often used his preference for rhetorical superlatives. He has, for example, talked about the availability of testing in those terms; by any measure he has been wrong about that. My advice: forego superlatives because the federal government’s response to crises is rarely better than good.
So, yes, public health has overwhelmed political news. But at some point our understandable anxieties will inform our ultimate political decision. And those anxious assessments projected into the future will want deeply informed leadership and, I predict, a health care insurance framework that recognizes the public health challenges we are all living through. This is likely to be an election in which right, left and center voters look through the curtain of grand schemes to see who is animating the puppets.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.