By Bonnie James
When Joe Biden walked into the Oval Office following his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, one of the first things he did was to take down the portrait of Andrew Jackson and replace it with one of Benjamin Franklin. Directly opposite the President’s desk he hung a large portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
These choices are more than the usual redecoration of the White House that takes place when a new occupant moves in; they tell us that on day one, Biden was ready to begin overturning the previous administration’s adherence to the mob populism of Jackson so admired by Trump, and to move forward based on the ideals of the American Revolution and Constitution, as espoused by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; he would follow FDR’s example in wielding the broad powers of the Executive on behalf of the American people.
President Biden has begun to follow through on the promises he had made during the election campaign, and in his speeches and actions since Nov. 3. As Trump and his band of looney lawyers were attempting to overthrow the election in court, and even after the Dec. 14 vote by the Electoral College confirmed Biden’s unassailable 306-232 victory, Biden was putting together his government.
As the world now knows, Trump’s clownish legal offensive was replaced by something much more ominous: the ridiculous Rudy Giuliani et al.’s sham legal adventures morphed into an armed insurrection against the government in an attempt to overturn the election, incited by the president himself. On Jan. 6, the date that Congress was called to the Capitol to count and affirm the Electoral College vote, a ramped up and highly armed mob of QAnon crazies, white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and other varieties of MAGA cultists, goaded into action by Trump himself to “Stop the Steal,” marched on the U.S. Capitol and bashed their way into its marbled halls, overcoming poorly prepared and unarmed Capitol Police. Five people were killed, including a police officer who was bludgeoned to death; two more officers killed themselves following the assault, as Trump, the self-described “law and order” president, reportedly watched “gleefully” from the safety of the White House at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
As the House of Representatives moved quickly to vote up a single article of impeachment on Jan. 13, citing Trump’s incitement to insurrection against the U.S. Government, Biden began laying out his agenda for the new administration.
Top Priority: Defeat the Pandemic
On Jan. 14, as the death toll from Covid-19 reached 400,000 Americans, President-elect Biden called for a $1.9 trillion emergency pandemic/economic relief package, recognizing that two crises must be dealt with as one. He began by addressing the devastating effects of the pandemic, in which “millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck.” He acknowledged the “real pain overwhelming the real economy.” He then pointedly noted that:
“You won’t see this pain if your scorecard is how things are going on Wall Street, but you will see it very clearly if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare: the growing divide between those few people at the very top who are doing quite well in this economy and the rest of America…. Some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors. And it’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of the once in several generations economic crisis with a once in several generations public health crisis. The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there’s no time to waste. We have to act and we have to act now” [emphasis added].
Rescue and Recovery
Biden then proposed “a two-step plan to build a bridge to the other side of the crisis we face to a better, stronger, more secure America.” The first step, he said, is “the American rescue plan that will tackle the pandemic and get direct financial assistance and relief to Americans who need it the most.” In his first appearance before a joint session of Congress, he added, he would announce “historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, research, and development, and clean energy, investments in a caregiving economy and skills and training needed by our workers to be able to compete and win in the global economy of the coming years.” Moody’s, he added, “said my approach will create more than 18 million good paying jobs….”
On the pandemic itself, Biden called for an all-out offensive that would speed up the national response to Covid-19, noting that while the vaccines offer much hope, “the vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far.” He pledged to meet the goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days as president.
He then outlined some of the emergency economic relief measures his administration would take immediately: $2,000 in cash relief to people who need it the most; extending unemployment insurance beyond the end of March for millions of workers, and action to extend nationwide restrictions on housing evictions and foreclosures. In addition, Biden said his plan will significantly reduce poverty in the Black and Hispanic communities.
Manufacturing: Made in America
Harkening back to the FDR leadership in the Second World War, Biden recalled that “American manufacturing was the arsenal of democracy in World War II. It will be so again.” While his predecessor in the White House spoke frequently about his commitment to a massive infrastructure buildup, but did nothing, Biden stated, “It’s time to stop talking about infrastructure and to finally start building an infrastructure so we can be more competitive.” He called for “millions of good paying jobs that put Americans to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our ports, to make them more climate resilient, to make them faster, cheaper, cleaner to transport American made goods across our country and around the world. That’s how we compete,” he concluded.
The Inauguration: A Call for ‘Unity’
In his Inaugural address, Biden echoed that of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937, in which FDR faced a similar crisis, but one not vastly complicated by a deadly virus. FDR’s powerful words reverberate still today:
“In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life. I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day…. I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
“But it is not in despair that I paint you that picture….”
President Biden clearly had those words in mind as he spoke on Jan. 20: “Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.
“A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer…. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.
“To overcome these challenges–to restore the soul and to secure the future of America–requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.”
And then, echoing Lincoln, he sounded an optimistic note: “Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our `better angels’ have always prevailed…
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward….”.
Leesburg, Virginia, Feb. 5, 2021