Opinion | When a national unity government really worked – and why it can not happen now

In the summer of 1940, Hitler’s forces ravaged Europe. Paris had fallen; so did Norway and Denmark. The British military was in dire need of destruction with a mass evacuation of Dunkirk, and Britain itself was virtually doomed to collapse without significant US aid – aid that was thwarted by a powerful isolationist movement in the United States.

In an effort to build bipartisan support to save a crisis-stricken democracy abroad, Roosevelt took the extraordinary step on July 19 of appointing two key Republicans to key positions in his cabinet. As Secretary of War, he elected Henry Stimson, who had served as Secretary of State under his predecessor Herbert Hoover. As Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt appointed Frank Knox, who had run for vice president alongside Alf Landon on the 1936 GOP ticket, and who had attacked the FDR’s “picky ideas.”

None of that mattered. For Roosevelt, the need to keep Britain out of Hitler’s hands and begin mobilizing America for the war he knew would come made previous party attacks irrelevant. And he received crucial help on the front of the man who lined up against him in 1940. Wendell Willkie, the Dark-horse candidate from the Republican Party, was a declared internationalist who – even during the campaign and despite occasional isolationist rhetoric – provided critical support for an extension of the peacetime draft and for sending destroyers to Britain in return for military bases. After the election, Willkie supported another important piece of aid to Britain – the Lend-Lease program, which provided military hardware – and became the president’s envoy to London.

It was probably the most serious effort to be split by any president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, who elected Democrat Andrew Johnson as his 1864 candidate (an election that proved disastrous). It also represented a far more significant prevalence than the common practice of putting a few members of the opposition party in government, as former President John F. Kennedy did when he appointed C. Douglas Dillon and Robert McNamara to central cabinet posts, or when ex. President Richard Nixon appointed John Connally as his finance minister and Pat Moynihan as his domestic policy adviser. It reflected the idea that, in addition to repelling Hitler, all other political considerations were pale in comparison. (That idea was encapsulated by the FDR in 1943, when he explained that “Dr. New Deal” had actually been replaced by “Dr. Win the War.”)

What is the relevance for today? Ever since the last election, and especially after the Republicans’ determined efforts to transform the electoral field into the next, we have been told that the free exercise of the ballot paper is in jeopardy – unless state-level attempts to limit the election period and seize control of the ballot stop , we may literally not have the “Republican form of government” guaranteed by the Constitution.

If this is true – and there is ample evidence that it is – then the various scenarios for “bipartisan tickets” can be seen as a cry for help, a call for a kind of courageous “national unity” from the president convening opponents on his side to protect our threatened political process.

If we put aside the more feverish speculations (is there anyone who seriously suggests that the president could remove the first black female vice president without disastrous results in his own party?), Then what should the president’s and his party’s response have been in the course of the past year and what should it be going forward?

The combination of Trumpist efforts to take control of the vote count and the almost non-existent democratic margins in both houses of Congress would have suggested two key efforts. First outreach to the “reality-based” faction of the Republican Party: Regardless of our division over policies and programs, we will work together to protect the political process from efforts to undermine it. And secondly, to Biden’s fellow Democrats: Our economic and social agenda is critical, but first we must strengthen American democracy.

These efforts would have been fascinating to witness – on Earth Two. Take a closer look and you can see why this attempt would have been doomed to fail. The polarization that has captured our policy is far too great. And the Republican Party is the most important (but not the only) case study.

Even in the first hours after the riots on January 6, while the shards of glass and the unholy halls were swept clean, a significant majority of the Republican Republican Party voted to block certification of Biden’s election college victory. Disgusted by former President Donald Trump’s behavior, even expressed by invertebrate minority leader Kevin McCarthy, had a half-life of several days. Nearly 5 percent of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to put Trump in a state court case, and a large majority of the party jumped in and still clings to the belief that Biden stole the presidency. Trump and his allies are systematically purging the few Republicans who have stood up to him.

When Wendell Willkie signed on to help Roosevelt, he was rejected by the isolationist wing of his party and was not even allowed to speak at the GOP Convention in 1944. If any Republicans sought to join a national unity government led by Biden, the retaliation have been significantly greater. (Remember what happened when Obama wanted Republican Senator Judd Gregg to serve as his secretary of commerce; even that task turned out to be too far a bridge for Gregg to cross.) Not a single Republican senator has supported Democrats’ broad election reform proposals .

For all but a handful of Republicans, any political alliance with Biden would have been suicidal, no matter how much they agreed that Trump and his cohorts were actively seeking to undermine the democratic experiment. Even The View cannot find a Republican who has rejected Trump’s big lie while maintaining the credibility of the GOP. (Would any of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump last year go into some form of unity effort? Do not bet on it.)

Now look across the hall. While Biden himself triumphed in the 2020 primary with a message of bipartisanship and unity, how willing would his party have been to embrace a national unity administration? Suppose Biden had said from the beginning that combating the threat of free and fair elections had to be the dominant focus of his administration, that “Dr. Build Back Better” had to take the back seat of “Dr. Red Republic”?

The cries of indignation would have been overwhelming: We have total control over Congress; we are likely to lose at least one house by 2022; it’s now or never for these programs – all of them.

And what is true of domestic policy issues would have been double that of controversial social issues. Before indulging in the notion of a two-partisan ticket, ask yourself how many Democrats you know who would support a ticket where the vice president was against abortion rights, supported gun laws, or voted for the confirmation of judges Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Brett Kavanaugh. Amy Coney Barrett.

There are even greater barriers to some form of “national unity effort”. Right now, Republicans in states across the country are enthusiastically making it harder to vote, ensuring that their partisans will be responsible for the machinery to count those votes, while their GOP allies in the Senate unanimously oppose efforts to enact federal laws. to secure that voice.

In response, Biden delivered a speech this week comparing these Republicans to Bull Connor and George Wallace, of segregationist disgrace, suggesting something other than an attempt to set common ground. At the same time, on January 6, the committee may issue subpoenas and criminal contempt against their colleagues in Parliament as it investigates efforts to block the White House bid and possible links between some of those members and the Capitol riot.

And even among the Republicans who reject Trump as their future, there is a clear division between which political path they should take: to support “u-Trumpy” Republicans or to help Democrats retain political power.

Yes, as Tom Friedman noted in his latest “Biden-Cheney” column, vastly different groups in Israel have managed to form a coalition government, united by their common will to keep Benjamin Netanyahu out of power. In the political system, defined by constantly changing alliances, where no faction is close to forming a majority on its own, that kind of coalition is possible. Here, with only two parties to choose from, it’s more in the realm of imagination.

I enjoy speculative political scenarios just as much as the next person; in fact, I have even written a few of them. But when it comes to looking for a real answer to what threatens our electoral system, the idea of ​​a two-party political coalition in today’s political environment just does not pass the plausibility test. Although I’m thinking of it, a Lieberman-Murkowski ticket …

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