With grim news dominating so much attention, it may be refreshing to hear from an authority who retains a basic sense of optimism about America’s capacity for achievement—even in facing challenges tied to the pandemic, political division and geopolitical rivalry. A noted political scientist and academic, Dr. Sam Potolicchio has shared his insights with us regularly over the past year—most recently in his paper and webcast, “Political Focus: The Case for Optimism.” Here are some key takeaways:
A Fresh Start: In the U.S., we have great capacity for innovation, breakthroughs, epiphanies and eureka moments—it’s reflected in many unlikely success stories, and at the political level is facilitated by our federal design, with the states serving as 50 laboratories of democracy. Recent stresses could turn into a catalyst for significant change.
Boring Is Good: Following the most hyperactive communicator in Presidential history, Joe Biden feels like a politician from another era. You will not have to watch his media feeds to stay current on policy, and his pronouncements will probably be scrubbed diligently through a formalized process. Biden appears allergic to controversy; even with a left-leaning agenda, he governs with a centrist tone. That will likely give businesses a sense of predictability and allow them to free up their cognitive architecture to innovate on pressing issues.
Media Danger: The country is not as divided as many might think; views on issues are often consistent across party lines, and the proportion of self-described moderates in the country has held steady for decades. However, the media is deepening schisms through its focus on drama and side issues, compounded by its interest in “platforming” the partisan camps.
‘Bigly’ With Guardrails: Biden seems to want to be the most consequential President since FDR—that’s reflected in his giant infrastructure and tax plans, and his efforts to reestablish the U.S. on the global scene. His centrist tone/left-leaning policy approach is helping with his support; that said, very slim Congressional majorities may limit certain policy changes, particularly when it comes to taxes.
Filibusted: In my opinion, the filibuster appears safe for now, given Biden’s historical views favoring the Senate rule, opposition to its removal by key moderates, and the real possibility that the Republicans could retake the House (likely) and Senate (outside chance) in 2022—which could (post-filibuster, with only 51 votes) contribute to a massive unwinding of Democratic priorities. If Democrats gain enough Senate votes in 2022 (a tall order), the situation could be very different.
Republican Division: Current internal GOP conflict is probably more a result of personality than policy, but Trump’s political dollars and popularity will help motivate MAGA candidates in 2022, especially where incumbents have retired. PAC efforts for insurgent Democrats will likely have less impact given their need to hold moderate seats, allowing the party to maintain a more unified front.
Striving for Greatness: Even if trimmed from its current size, infrastructure spending has extensive bipartisan support. Channeling FDR, Joe Biden is likely to appeal to patriotism in the drive for passage, noting the country’s weak ranking on infrastructure, and the need to return to a position where our roads, airports, bridges and more are a source of pride and an advantage in a competitive landscape.