The strongest emotion many people felt in response to the election of Joe Biden as president of the U.S. was relief. Relief not because Biden is the new president but because the dreadful Trump is gone. Biden’s challenge is immense. Rarely has a new president had to deal with such a mess left behind by his predecessor.
Naturally, people are wondering if a 78-year old man is up to it. Fortunately that concern is largely allayed by his youthful, vigorous and very bright vice-president. She is capable of more than filling his shoes should it become necessary.
But what about his policies. Joe has a fair amount of baggage, after all, such as the 1994 “tough on crime” bill which he drafted as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The most important issue is the environment, particularly global warming, and here his approach is encouraging. On his first day in office, he rejoined the Paris climate agreement and instructed all executive agencies to review actions that were “damaging to the environment, [or] unsupported by the best available science.” This is consistent with his intense interest in a healthy environment.
As for the country’s persistent race problems, his appointments to cabinet and cabinet-level officials include a strong showing of Black faces including, of course, his vice-president. He ordered federal agencies to review equity in their existing policies and come up with a plan in 200 days to address inequality in them.
Nonetheless, some on the left suggest his age and centrist philosophy leave him poorly equipped to cure America’s unprecedented ills. Perhaps they are right, but unlikely politicians have been known to rise to the occasion.
Consider, for example the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe was a lawyer whose practice relied on defending the railroads, the arch-capitalist villains of the day. When he became president, he ended slavery.
Teddy Roosevelt was a scion of wealth, an imperialist with a fondness for war. As president, he broke up corporate monopolies, enabled labour unions, and created the United States Forest Service.
His cousin FDR was also a member of the privileged class. Early in his career he was a cautious man who preferred balanced budgets. But during his long tenure as president, he spent massively, keeping millions out of poverty and leaving an extraordinary legacy in agriculture and renewable energy.
And then there was that master political manipulator and good old boy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, buddy of Texas oil barons and beneficiary of their largesse. In his term at the top, he busted Jim Crow, signed Medicare into law, and cut his nation’s poverty in half.
What Joe Biden lacks in philosophy relative to Bernie Sanders, he more than makes up with connections, a much more useful commodity in DC. In fact, Bernie is quite optimistic about his colleague, saying Joe has the potential to be the most progressive president since FDR. If he’s got Bernie’s blessing, I’m not about to argue.