The former vice president’s message is not a programmatic one. He’s not ideologically devoted to a centrist agenda. (In several areas, he’s running to Obama’s left.) Rather’s he’s keenly aware that the United States is a sharply divided country, he believes he understands where many Republicans are coming from (even if he doesn’t personally affirm their views), and he’s committed to reaching common ground with them in attempting to govern the country.

In this respect, Biden isn’t promising a straightforward restoration of the Obama administration. He’s actually proposing that the country can return to something more like the consensus politics of the middle decades of the 20th century — a time when Democrat John F. Kennedy proposed a major tax cut, members of both parties came together to pass landmark civil rights legislation, and Republican Richard Nixon oversaw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the expansion of affirmative action policies.

The case for attempting this form of governance is emphatically not that the outcome of some extended negotiation between President Biden and leading members of the congressional GOP will automatically produce the best policy. (Committed members of each party will sharply disagree about what the best policy is.) The case for attempting to reach bipartisan consensus is that, given how divided the country is, whatever emerges from such a process will be the best we can achieve under present circumstances.