Biden’s Debt

Biden’s Debt


Leonard Zwelling

Readers of this blog know that this writer has been struggling with the issue of Black Lives Matter, Black lives in America and the solution to the claims of systemic racism in America. So has Joe Biden. But while I can struggle on-line without consequences to others, Mr. Biden has a debt to repay and he has as much as admitted that. Without the support of House leader James Clyburn, Mr. Biden would never have won the South Carolina primary, nor the Democratic nomination, nor the presidency. Black votes were also essential for him in several key states, especially Georgia. Mr. Biden has acknowledged the huge debt he has to the African-American community and it is not one he can repay with a few appointments here and there even if one is at the Pentagon and another at the U.N. No, he needs to make those Black Lives Matter and he needs to make them better. That’s what the first article from the December 25 edition of The New York Times basically says. The standard response of Democratic presidents to pay lip service to the Black community will not be sufficient this time. The consequences are huge as the Democrats can no longer count on the “Black vote.” The Democrats are going to have to earn that loyalty now and the votes that go with it.

By contrast, the second article from The Wall Street Journal on December 26 makes it abundantly clear that racism is deeply engrained in the American character (see Huckleberry Finn) and thinking that expunging the N-word from the texts of classic novels will correct the underlying problem is a mistake. It won’t. Wokeness is a necessary prelude to Biden’s paying his debt, but shaming and acquiescing to left wing nonsense about trigger warnings will also not get at the fundamental problem of inequity in the Black community when it comes to health care, income disparity, housing and job opportunity. No Cabinet appointment by Mr. Biden can fix the real problem of systemic and historical racism and the Republican view that it is not real nor amenable to correction by legislative action is just as fallacious.

So where does that leave Mr. Biden?

He can try to correct some systemic inequities through executive action, through the Cabinet departments or through discretionary spending. What he can do by those means, he ought to do. Improving housing grants, educational opportunities through support of historically Black colleges and universities, and using every means possible to increase Black access to good health care should be priorities in the Biden Administration. But real change in voting rights, for example, will necessitate legislative action. If the Senate stays in Republican hands that will be difficult. Mr. Biden seems to be of the school of bipartisan compromise, but that has not been very effective of late in the McConnell-led Senate. Mr. Biden is going to have to find and twist some Republican arms in the Senate to get substantial legislation passed to pay back his debt to the Black community. His skill in doing that will be tested and many in the African-American community would prefer Biden take a tougher stance with Republicans, but there may be little Biden can do if McConnell controls the Senate. Biden will try to cut deals and the GOP may be just as adamant about blocking his attempts. This is why those two Senate races in Georgia are so critical.

On the one hand, having the entirety of the federal government in the hands of one party is frightening. On the other, the Republicans under Trump have been reactionary in blocking any meaningful progress for the less fortunate in America. My conservative friends think this is just fine because they don’t want Congress giving away their money or taking more of it in higher taxes. What my friends do not seem to understand is the desperate state many, including Black Americans, are in after the coronavirus economic downturn and the help they truly need. If my friends believe that inner city violence comes from nowhere, they are sadly mistaken. Rage is rage. The only logical response to it is assistance not more rage.

Mr. Biden has his work cut out for him. How does he reward a constituency to which he owes so much without undermining his ability to govern through bipartisan compromise?

As Super Chicken would say, “you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”

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