Don Mohler: A Sunshine Boy and the Golden Girl

Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks as President Joe Biden listens during an event on the American Rescue Plan in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

With apologies to Dr. Theodore Geisel:

They screamed and they shouted and jumped up and down.
“If they cancel our culture, we’ll wear a big frown.”
But Joe didn’t hear. He showed up every day.
And we smiled when he said, “Yes, your help’s on the way!”

President Biden’s approval rating sits daily somewhere between 52% and 60%. His American Recovery Act is supported by 75% of the American public, including 59% of Republicans. And 70% support the president’s response to COVID 19.

To put these numbers in perspective, the host of “White House Celebrity Apprentice” never surpassed 50% during the show’s four-year run. As Buffalo Springfield once suggested, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Well, it may be clearer than we think.

Even the most cynical pundits on the national political scene are a bit surprised by these numbers. Given the tribal state of our political discourse, many thought that presidential approval ratings in the mid-40% range represented the new normal. While 60 days is a small sample size, Biden seems to be writing a new playbook.

Are we still terribly divided? Indeed. Are there still millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised by the results of the election this past November? Absolutely. Given the fact that the Senate is weighted to give disproportionate strength to rural states and that gerrymandered districts make it difficult for moderates to win congressional races at all, could the Republicans take back the House and the Senate in 2022? Without a doubt. If Democrats decide to spike the ball, they may get kicked out of the playground sooner than they’d like.

But just for giggles, let’s see if we can’t learn something from the president’s first two months in office. As it turns out, we may have underestimated the nation’s desire for a return to normal.

Months ago, I interviewed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). During that discussion, he said that he was really looking forward to a time when the president of the United States was a bit boring again, to a time when the president would appear before the press, make an announcement, and exit stage right. A yawn would never feel so good. It turns out the governor might as well have had a Ouija Board.

Normalcy or competency? Competency or normalcy? Take your pick. Both play a significant role in the honeymoon, amplified when a dash of empathy is added to the mix.

One glimpse into the style and the substance of this president did not receive a lot of attention over the past few days, but it should have. After 12 long hours of debate, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia signed off on the changes to the Recovery Act.

He was a tough sell. He represents a state that gave the “Celebrity Apprentice” host 70% of its vote. He is basically the only Democrat holding office in West Virginia. Oh, and he’s a survivor who recognizes that in a 50/50 Senate, he has enormous power. The White House needs his vote.

While Senate leadership and White House staff engaged with the senator from West Virginia, so did the president, but not in the way you might think. According to all reports, Biden used his years of friendship with Manchin to continue to build bridges. He didn’t tweet what a loser he was. He didn’t make fun of his hair. He didn’t threaten to primary him. He didn’t call him a DINO.

What did Uncle Joe do? He told the senator that he’d been a good Democrat for many years, that he cared about the people of his state, and in the end the president told him to vote his conscience. In other words, he gave Joe Manchin the space he needed to make a difficult decision. And in a few weeks, people all across the nation will be cashing $1,400 checks. And by the way, those checks won’t be signed by the president. As his press secretary said, the president knows this is not about him. “It’s about the American people.” Damn, now that’s a new approach.

And while we’re at it, let’s not lose sight of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There were a number of provisions in the House version of the bill that were very important to the speaker’s progressive caucus, particularly the $15 minimum wage, which was deep sixed by the Senate Parliamentarian.

Many, including yours truly, waited to see how her members would react when the revised bill made its way across the hall. Well do not fear, the speaker is here. In a move clearly orchestrated by Little Italy’s finest, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and other left-leaning members of the House immediately took to the airwaves to proclaim that they were 110% ready to accept the Senate’s compromise and move the landmark legislation to the president’s desk.

So as it turns out, government actually works better when adults are in charge. And this is not a partisan issue. In 1976, President Carter’s staff included a couple of whiz kids by the name of Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan, who engineered his unlikely journey from the peanut farm to the White House. But as he soon found out, their lack of experience with Washington insiders which was a plus on the campaign trail, was anything but when actually having to govern.

Totally frustrated with a combination of arrogance and incompetence, House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously called Jordan “Hamilton Jerkin.” As revered as Carter is today, he was a one-term president remembered mostly for a hostage crisis and long gas lines. His Washington outsiders weren’t much help.

Yes, the president is 78 and the speaker 80, but let’s score one for the “Sunshine Boy” and the “Golden Girl.” Need to have a knee replaced or an artery cleared? Only Rodney Dangerfield would choose Dr. Vinny Boombatz.

If we truly want government to function, and yes quite honestly, be boring again, then step aside and let the pros work their magic.

— DON MOHLER

The writer is the former Baltimore County executive and president and CEO of Mohler Communication Strategies. He can be reached at [email protected].