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Editorial: Biden must chart moderate course as he seeks to unite divided nation

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Biden seeks to move quickly and build out his administration (copy)

President-elect Joe Biden stands on stage Saturday with his wife, Jill Biden, as he gives the thumbs-up to the cheering crowd in Wilmington, Del.

Americans are deeply divided on myriad policy and social issues. The United States is more isolated than it’s been in decades, risking our long-held role as leader of the free world at a time when threats from old and new adversaries call for strengthening not straining bonds with our allies.

With many weary Americans looking for a president who can bring stability and moderation to an anxious nation, an experienced leader who can unite rather than divide both at home and abroad, a majority of voters made Joe Biden their choice.

President Donald Trump has not conceded and is asking for all votes to be scrutinized to determine whether there were any counting errors. Although we are troubled by his unfounded claims of fraud, it is not inappropriate for him to wait until the vote-counting process has concluded. And it is his right to challenge the results through the legal system.

But it is apparent that when the Electoral College meets Dec. 14, Mr. Biden will have more than the 270 electoral votes he needs to become the nation's 46th president. And so as we did with Mr. Trump and we have with each previous president, we congratulate Mr. Biden and wish him success.

We are heartened by his remarks Saturday, after enough votes were counted to put Pennsylvania out of reach for the president. "For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight," Mr. Biden said. "I've lost a couple of times myself. But now, let's give each other a chance. It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again. And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies. ... This is the time to heal in America."

Mr. Biden has shown himself to be a moderate for most of his long political career and willing to reach across the aisle for compromise. As the Democratic Party lurched farther to the left during this year’s primary season, giving serious consideration to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the party’s voters wisely coalesced behind the centrist Mr. Biden. That coalescence was aided by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn more than any other single figure — Mr. Clyburn's endorsement in South Carolina's presidential primary turned Mr. Biden's fortunes around and led directly to this day — so we expect the South Carolina congressman will have the president's ear.

That rejection of far-left ideology tells us that many Americans are ready for a return to steady, reliable leadership that is closer to the center, where most Americans live politically. The extremes in both parties have turned politics into a corrosive zero-sum game. We desperately need a course correction.

Mr. Biden has some sensible policies that he articulated during the campaign, which still was more a referendum on Mr. Trump than a clash of ideas about where America needs to go next. Unlike some in his party, Mr. Biden does not support defunding the police but rather favors reforms to eliminate bias and racial disparities. We expect his respect for science and public-health experts will help bring the coronavirus pandemic to a quicker end, with fewer lives lost. Also, his competence, knowledge and expertise should help rebuild the confidence in government institutions that’s been lost over the past two decades, particularly over the past four years.

Some of Mr. Biden's views give us pause. We are leery of some of his proposed tax increases, including those aimed in part at providing more money for the ballooning costs of entitlement programs without also looking for ways to reform them. His waffling on court-packing during the campaign also is a cause for concern.

It will be important for Mr. Biden to keep the far-left elements of the Democratic Party at arm's length, as he signaled during the first presidential debate, when he pointedly distanced himself from some of their proposals on health care, economic policy and the Green New Deal. As a likely one-term president, because of his age, that should be doable.

Voters issued their own warning about Mr. Trump in the 2018 midterm elections, exacting a price on Republicans in the voting booth. We expect the 2022 midterms will provide the same kind of referendum on Mr. Biden’s policies and leadership, serving as a counter-balance if he strays too far from the mainstream.

Mr. Biden has friends on both sides of the aisle, and that gives us hope for a revival of much-needed bipartisanship. He has enjoyed long friendships with many Republicans including the late John McCain, a relationship that survived Sen. McCain’s 2008 run for president atop the GOP ticket. His choice as the person to deliver the eulogy at Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond’s funeral was one of the clearest signs of Mr. Biden’s ability to work collegially with people who have held different views.

The country can’t solve its many urgent problems — which include a pandemic, economic trauma, climate change and racial justice inequities — when it’s constantly at war with itself. We don’t need extremes, whether they emanate from the left or the right.

And it's not just up to the president to fight extremism; it's up to all of us. Be skeptical of voices who seek to divide and inflame us; respect the act of governing — and the compromises involved there — and not just garnering the most votes on Election Day.

America is on the cusp of writing a new chapter of its storied history, and we're confident it can be a great one — if all of us pull together. It will be up to Mr. Biden to lead that effort, and all of us should wish him success. 

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