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Being ‘boring’ may work for Biden

The words will be heard as sensible by any sensible person. Unless he somehow sought help from the wrong speechwriter, some passages will be downright eloquent. And if history is any guide, the effective half-life of this rhetorical appeal will be measured in days or hours. It is not that exhortations for unity fall on deaf ears; it is that they fall on desensitized minds, even among people who say they want unity and may actually believe it.

In narrow political terms, Biden has a strong interest in taming the forces of remorseless conflict and endless recrimination. His policy agenda depends on reviving a functional political center. In broad historical terms, everyone else has an interest, too. The country’s long-term vitality depends on it.

It’s a goal that goes without saying, but so far goes without achieving. As it happens, the best hope now is not Biden’s ability to summon the better angels of our nature with a soaring speech.

To the contrary, the new president’s modest oratorical gifts — the fact that he is by modern political standards a bit boring — can be a powerful asset.

More than three decades of experience shows us what does not work in unifying Americans: inspirational words. … Here’s what might work instead: substantive deeds at a moment when people urgently need government to work, no matter their political persuasion.

This would not require Biden persuading people that it’s time to swear off the cultural warfare that fueled the Trump years.

Instead it would involve making the fact that many Americans feel contempt toward one another less relevant. …

Biden presents an arresting possibility. He can revive a brand of politics that once again revolves around concrete things, rather than symbolism. If he passes ambitious legislation for infrastructure spending, as he promises to do, these will literally be concrete things. …

Biden’s stolid, persevering personality in this context is a gift. His bid to unite the country depends on moving its attention away from the abstract to the tangible, away from the politics of identity to the politics of material gains, away from large, philosophical arguments to tightly focused, pragmatic ones — away from exhortation to achievement.

From a column by John F. Harris, founding editor of Politico.