So much for imagination, it would seem. The Democratic Party electorate has chosen as its presidential nominee Joe Biden, a solid but unremarkable vice president for eight years, a man who has been running for this nomination on and off since 1988. He has defeated opponents calling for a universal basic income, midwestern common sense, generational transition, plans upon plans upon plans, and, finally, “political revolution.” He has done so, remarkably, without calling for much of anything himself. Victory, it seems, has gone to the candidacy of nothing.
That might sound like an insult, but I do not mean it that way. The imagination phase of the 2020 presidential campaign was interesting, but so too might be the ascent of Biden-esque minimalism. It might be just what American politics needs. It might even be good for the imagination of the American left.
What is a president for? Think about that word, president. When the authors of the Constitution decided on that word for the country’s chief executive, they lived in a world of kings and queens, regents and emperors. These were people who had to be addressed as your majesty and other such contrivances. Yes, the Framers needed a strong federal government, but not too strong. When they agreed to address America’s chief executive as Mr. President, it was something close to an insult: The person who merely presides—who sits at the head of the table and sets the appropriate tone while others actually get things done. The authors of the Constitution had only recently won an anti-royalist war and did not want another king.