At first glance, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Joe Biden simply isn’t getting much done in Washington. While he was able to get the stimulus package through on a party-line vote, that bill didn’t contain the kind of grand, sweeping changes that liberals have been proposing in other areas, like climate change or voting rights: those initiatives remain thoroughly stalled.

Indeed, the liberal bills in those areas will have trouble getting 50 votes in the Senate, let alone reaching the 60-vote threshold to move beyond a filibuster. His second major initiative, attempting to fund infrastructure improvements nationwide, has resembled a Ping-Pong match between Republican negotiators and the administration without much to show for it. Now a new, bipartisan group has started batting that ball around, and they may yet make progress – at least, they seem to be moving closer to a deal than earlier negotiations.

On that front (and all others) Biden is stuck between two opposing forces: his own pledge of bipartisanship and the far left of his own party, who’d like to see much more sweeping changes. Inevitably, the bipartisan talks will disappoint either liberals, who will feel let down by the final product of the negotiations, or moderates, who will be upset to see the Democrats go it alone yet again. Indeed, liberals will likely still be disappointed if Democrats pass their own bill – they’ll never get their own way completely on, well, anything.

That’s why it’s been interesting to see House Democrats continually pass their own sweeping legislation, even when they know there’s no chance whatsoever of it passing in the Senate. In the past, the smart move from Democratic leadership would have been to keep those bills from coming to the floor for a vote at all, so their endangered members in swing districts didn’t have to take tough stances on controversial legislation. That also had the additional political benefit of hiding any division within the party, presenting a united front to the public. House Democrats now are taking a different tack, passing liberal legislation that they hope will appeal to the public and put pressure on both the White House and moderate Democrats.

It’s hard to imagine that strategy being successful: the Senate Democrats holding up liberal dreams aren’t exactly likely to succumb to progressive pressure. Joe Manchin, for instance, is the only Democrat who can win statewide elections in West Virginia right now, so he’s probably not going to be extinguished in a primary any time soon. Manchin isn’t the only moderate Democrat left in the U.S. Senate, but he’s representative of the group in many ways (both literally and figuratively, given his fondness for media attention).

Far from spinning his wheels and wasting time, Joe Biden is actually managing to get quite a bit done right off the bat. He’s just not checking off every single item on liberals’ wishlist. While it’s easy for those on the far left to blame him personally for that, it’s hard to imagine that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would be getting much more done if they were sitting in the Oval Office instead.

They might be willing to move more quickly in a few areas, but they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish a lot more legislatively. Moreover, given their national status as leaders of the left wing, they could well have lost to Donald Trump or hurt Democrats’ chances in congressional races even more. Had they managed to win, with Democrats losing control of the House or the Senate, they’d have ended up getting almost nothing done. Indeed, it would have been easy for Republicans in the future to point to that paralysis as the natural consequence of electing a left-winger to the White House.

Back in 2016, Democrats made the mistake of choosing a nominee widely distrusted by the left who was easy for for the right to attack. Last year, they did the opposite by picking a candidate who liberals could tolerate but who wasn’t the same lightning rod for the other party. It proved to be a wise strategy, as Biden has managed to shift the national conversation back in his direction ideologically without alienating half the electorate.

Republicans, both nationally and here in Maine, would be wise to find candidates who can accomplish a similar feat to the benefit of conservative policies. That’s how you really get things done in the long term in politics, even if it’s not always immediately obvious.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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