We’re going to spend the next few weeks going through wash-and-rinse cycles of the political machine as the Trump Administration wrestles with its loss. There’s no reason to deny the President his legal right to challenge the vote and no doubt a few improprieties will crop up here and there. But it’s done. Joe won and Trump will walk away eventually. All of the pre-election fever-dreams of the far left about a Commander-in-Chief holed up in a militarized White House will remain just that. Joe and Kamala will dance their way into office on Jan. 20.
But you know what they say — campaigning is easy, governing is hard. The expectations for a Biden presidency are vast and complex. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s how factionalized — how tribalized — we’ve become as a nation. From environmental policy to cabinet positions, there are a hundred different ideas about what Biden should do. The traditional temptation is to please everybody (like the joke goes, a politician’s favorite color is plaid). But going in a hundred different directions means going nowhere at all.
So, Mr. President-Elect, here’s some advice from one constituent: go big, if you must, but keep it simple. Pick a few objectives that are meaningful for the country, that everyone can rally around, and that can create collateral benefits as you advance them. Be evolutionary, not revolutionary; flexible, not fixated. Americans spoke clearly in the election. We like our progress incremental and pragmatic. We’d like a return of decency and civility to our politics, but most of all we just want things to work.
The rapid development of a vaccine and other therapeutics to manage the pandemic is an example of how we can bear down and come up with solutions that work. We’d like more of that.
So when you do settle in, here are three strategic things you can focus on to rev up America’s mojo (these are all in addition to the pandemic, which is Job 1; but we trust you’ve got that).
1. When you build your team, take a cue from Lincoln. Build a team of rivals. Focus not just on gender or racial diversity, but diversity of thought. Appointing a Republican or two to your cabinet would send a strong signal that you do more than believe in bipartisanship, you practice it. Leverage all of your experience in the Senate as a negotiator and compromiser, traits that were amplified by your selection of Ron Klain as Chief of Staff. Obama once famously said to a reporter when asked why he didn’t sit down for a drink with Mitch McConnell, “Why don’t you have a drink with Mitch McConnell.” Don’t do that. Reach out. Criticize policies, but not people. You made a point of saying you would do that in your first post-election speech and it was a refreshing moment of grace in American politics. Stick to it.
2. Secure the commanding heights with a massive infrastructure initiative for America. Here, you can be big and bold, maybe bigger and bolder than any president in history. It’s time to start building again: education, public health infrastructure, 5G, advanced energy (including an overhauled power grid), transportation, water systems — the list is long, because we’ve deferred so much of it for so long. If taxes are going up, let’s put them toward concrete, measurable investments that will create jobs and secure America’s competitive advantage in the global economy. Set benchmarks for return-on-investment from your infrastructure initiative and be relentless about delivering them.
3. Now that we’ve brought up the “T” word, if you’re going to raise taxes, be judicious about it. You can get a little more money out of the private sector, but don’t choke off its air supply. The traditional relationship between government and business is transactional. You can redefine it as a partnership, focused on the long-term. Keeping corporate taxes at a level competitive with the global economy accelerates business formation, capital investment and job growth — all of which increases revenue to the U.S. Treasury. While at Chevron, I commissioned a study by the Milken Institute to measure the company’s economic impact on the Golden State. It is immense. Political commentator and influencer Joel Fox said the study reminded him of a Churchill quote: “Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse pulling a sturdy wagon.” The private sector needs some guard rails, for sure, but it also needs lots of space to do what it does best — create wealth.
So, look. We’ve all read the progressive policy manifesto you put together with Bernie Sanders (OK, I confess I didn’t read all 110 pages — life is short!). You can go that route if you want — the route of wanting it all, and going after it all, regardless of the consequences. The media will love it, because the media love conflict, multiple story lines and breaking news; they do not like slow-and-steady, compromise or comity. But a majority of the electorate clearly said this year they like the latter approach. You know this, Joe, because you’ve based your political career on it. Let’s do it. Let’s start building again.