In my desperate search for a moderate Democratic candidate in whom I can have more confidence than the flailing former Joe Biden, I decided to look at what the various candidates are promising to do in their first 100 days in office. In previous campaigns, candidates employed this reference to the extremely productive first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term to flag the policies they considered most urgent. To my surprise, the campaign websites of most candidates avoid this term, maybe out of fear of alienating those groups whose pet projects would not be included in the 100 days list. Indeed, the candidate who has such a list on her website, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), seems to includes on her list everything she promises to do during her whole administration.
Well, I decided to fall back on one professor’s imagination, which shows you how desperate I am. Accordingly, the moderate candidate will state on his/her first day in office, during the inaugural address, that during the election we unfurled our aspirations — however now it is time to govern. The US is a wreck. Years of government paralysis have left much of the country in a ‘past maintenance due’ state, very much like many of our bridges and roads. Old problems continue to fester and new ones are pilling up. Above all, the democratic pillars have been severely assaulted and need shoring up and national divisiveness needs healing. Hence instead of expecting various goodies, promised during the campaign, sacrifices are called for.
My dream candidate will point out that none of the various aspirations articulated during the elections can be truly implemented unless we learn again how to work together (on the political level) and remember on the social level that — despite some fully legitimate differences among us — first of all we are all members of one community, we are first of all Americans. We all need to give some, in order to keep the boat afloat as we are rebuilding it.
My favorite candidate will promise to invite the Congressional leadership and major Committee chairs of both parties — and their family members — to Camp David, for the first weekend after his/her election. Each cabin will host one GOP family and one Democratic family. Activities for children will be provided so parents can mingle, rub shoulders, and bond. Sunday, spouses and children will leave for their routines at home, however elected officials will be expected to stay — until they have worked out the outlines of three bills, important in their own right, and as a way of showing that the new Congress is able to pull together and be productive.
These bills will include an infrastructure one (which Congress can shape in any way it wants, but which my candidate will state the he/she will sign such a bill only if it devotes at least $100 billion a year for ten years to infrastructure); a bill to further reduce incarcerations (including by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences); and an immigration bill (which will draw on a bipartisan bill Congress already drafted, with a path to citizenship and strong border protection). My candidate will invite the main Congressional committee members who draft budgets to Camp David for President’s Day weekend (February 13–15, 2021) to prepare a four-year budget, bringing an end to the practice of using continuing resolutions, which reflect previous conditions and prevent budget adjustments based on the changing circumstances.
My candidate will promise to seek allies in Congress who will lead a drive to introduce many new rules of engagement that promote civility. Thus, both the Chairs of committees and the ranking minority members will be able to turn off the recording and broadcasting devices whenever they hold that a member is assaulting another member rather than criticizing his or her policy or when inflammatory language is used. (The assumption is that when members realize that they will be unable to use clips from hearings to please their base, they will be more open to deliberation rather than posturing.) More such rules would seek to return civility to the Senate and to introduce it to the House.
The moderate candidate will announce a plan to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq within 100 days — unless Congress resumes its role to authorize wars. The plan is not to quit the Middle East, but to restore Congress’s role, to be the part of government that render such decisions.
My candidate would state that in the first 100 days she/he will appoint a bipartisan commission to radically change the ways elections are financed in order to greatly reduce the influence of private money in elections, without violating Supreme Court rulings. The candidate will urge the commission to examine the British model, followed by many democracies, in which election periods are much shorter than in the US and hence cost much less. And, if the courts continue to prevent Congress from limiting how much money a corporation or union can contribute to a campaign, maybe the courts will tolerate limits on what special interests can get in return.
The moderate candidate will announce that the first 100 days will be used not to start granting each interest group the goodies promised during the elections, the ornaments of the Democratic Christmas tree — but to ask each group what it is willing to give up for the common good. For instance, Big Pharma will be asked to stop pressuring Congress to prohibit Americans from purchasing medication overseas, especially in Canada, where they cost a small fraction of what they cost in the US and are as safe as those sold in the US — or face a ban on TV ads, one place in other countries. Health insurers will be asked to stop agitating against a public option or try to survive Medicare for All.
The main reason I assume that such a moderate candidate will be elected that the majority of Americans are looking to end the government paralysis and reduce the divisiveness that pelages the society. That they realize in the heart of hearts, shoring up the foundations of democracy is a perquisite for gaining what other candidate promises to do in the first 100 days (and for all the days to follow).
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. Click here to watch a recent, four-minute video, “Reclaiming Patriotism, Political and Social Life after Trump.” His latest book, Reclaiming Patriotism, was published by University of Virginia Press in 2019 and is available for download without a charge.