President-elect Joe Biden struck the right notes in his speech to the nation Saturday, echoing former president Barack Obama when he spoke of the need for national unity and seeing neither red states nor blue states but only the United States. But as Obama himself showed, talk is cheap. If Biden really wants unity, he’s going to have to walk the walk — and that means taking red-state voters’ concerns seriously.
Most Americans have been tired of partisan conflict for decades. George W. Bush ran as a “uniter, not a divider,” and Obama, too, campaigned as someone who could bring us together. In office, however, each ended up governing as a hard partisan. Bush gave us a prolonged war in Iraq that Democrats wanted out of and mistook a narrow reelection as a mandate for Social Security reform that most Americans neither understood nor wanted. Obama pushed the country leftward on a host of issues, including health care and immigration, even as his determination cost his party control of Congress, many governorships and hundreds of state legislative seats. Both decided that when the going got tough, the talk of unity got thrown aside.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.