There’s a reason why Ali Velshi is your favorite news anchor, your dad’s favorite news anchor, and your grandma’s favorite too: The guy isn’t just impossibly likable, but enviably, refreshingly level-headed. At a time when there are too many ratings-addled hothead pundits on-air, everything out of Velshi’s mouth just makes sense.
So it was particularly enlightening to hear from him during The Citizen’s most recent virtual event on Wednesday evening, as he dissected the Biden administration’s progress so far—the highs, the lows, and what it portends about the future.
Some key takeaways:
Government has its groove back
Whether or not you’re politically aligned with President Biden, government is—once again—functioning in a way that governments should function, from the vaccine rollout to policy discussions about infrastructure, minimum wage, and the U.S.’s role in an increasingly dangerous world. “It’s intellectually taxing, but it feels more normal,” Velshi said. One weak spot to watch: immigration. “Americans are just really bad at immigration,” he said, acknowledging the irony of a nation built by immigrants now failing to address them reasonably and responsibly. “We’ve suddenly gotten very dumb about the whole thing.” This administration is not the first to bungle the border, though—the former administration, and the one before that, struggled too.
Big Deals are on the table
While he may not prove to be as transformative as FDR—will anyone?—some of the proposals Biden has on the table are very, very, very big, Velshi said. Their progress hinges on whether Biden can get Republican support, whether he’ll cave to pressure from the left wing not to compromise, and so on. “If it works, it’ll go down in history as amazing,” Velshi said. “It’s hard to get these things to work because they’re really big.”
Six trillion bucks is a lot of money.
With Biden calling for six trillion in relief funds, many question what kind of economic fallout will follow. But, Velshi said, that kind of money can be reasonably called for under two conditions: interest rates are low, and doing so will create a return on investment, insofar as creating jobs and putting money in the pockets of Americans. The former is in place; the latter remains to be seen.
“Americans are just really bad at immigration,” he said. “We’ve suddenly gotten very dumb about the whole thing.”
Infrastructure goes beyond roads.
But reasonable people can debate how far beyond it should go. In addition to highways and bridges, it now refers to widespread broadband and fiber optics. But should it also, as Pres. Biden has argued, include healthcare; childcare and eldercare? That’s a conversation Velshi is glad the country is having. Doing infrastructure right, he made clear, can support the notion that “[The U.S.] economy, when it fires on all cylinders, is firing.”
The Republican party is broken.
“That’s not partisan at all,” Velshi said of that viewpoint. “And it saddens me deeply that that is the case.” It’s not fantastic for anyone to have a one-party system, he went on—there’s no point in history where having one controlling party was good for anything.
We need to welcome back pluralism, the idea that we shouldn’t be trying to convince everybody to our side of things. Instead, he said, we should combine the best of what you have to offer with the best of what I have to offer, and come together to create a product that is neither yours nor mine but a combination, because we share this place. “That’s politics. Bring your best idea, and if it doesn’t work, try again next time.”
“I think that that’s possible. And I think that we have to keep that dream alive and we have to keep talking about issues that might actually get bipartisan support,” he said. “That’s where The Citizen comes in—you discuss issues that shouldn’t necessarily be partisan.”
“That’s politics. Bring your best idea, and if it doesn’t work, try again next time.”
But bipartisanship can make a comeback.
Bipartisanship is not dead—entirely. The former president, he said, “infused our politics with this weird, potent stink that doesn’t have to be there.” One way around it? He believes our nation needs more media literacy—that our schools should be teaching it, and that people should “triangulate” their news. (Get more on that in this video from our 2019 Ideas We Should Steal Festival, when Velshi interviewed media pioneer Steven Brill about his organization NewsGuard.) He also believes we need more discourse, like the kind The Citizen strives to stimulate. “The Philadelphia Citizen is that arena: You are an example of a civil society arena into which people can go and discuss their ideas, and have them critiqued,” he said. (Thanks, Ali!)
While Velshi shied away from flat-out giving the administration a grade, he did concede that Biden and co. are demonstrating that government can get stuff done for the average American. What will happen ahead—with legislation like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, as well as voting rights legislation and more? Only time will tell.
If you missed it, you can watch the event—including a rousing performance by the teen students of Rock to the Future playing The Jackson 5’s “I want you back”—below.
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