Joe Biden has been on the campaign trail for over 50 years. Now, after decades of speculation, several false starts and three formal applications for the presidency, he will finally take over the highest office in the country. To a greater extent than anyone else on the American political scene, he anticipated and prepared the job he will take on Wednesday. As such, Biden understands that the address he holds after being sworn in as 46th President must not only be the best of his career, but also one of the best in the 232 years since it was first opened.
The challenge that Biden faces is profound: He must bury the legacy of a predecessor who instigated a fascist uprising to reverse the results of the 2020 election. And he has to outline a bold agenda for combating a pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate crisis, systemic racism and the broken priorities of a federal government that consistently over-finances the military-industrial complex and under-finances the human needs of a society overwhelmed by hunger and homelessness.
Few newly elected presidents have seen such a difficult circumstance as the one Biden will have to address on Wednesday. It’s only been two weeks since Donald Trump instigated the uprising. It’s only been a week since the outgoing president was indicted. Trump’s Senate Trial is being organized while armed forces guard the Capitol where Biden is to be sworn in. But Republicans in Congress and cable television experts already are encouraging The president-elect focuses his address on “healing” and “oneness”. To that end, the next Democratic president is being urged to channel Abraham Lincoln, the Republican who took office on the threshold of the Civil War.
“Abraham Lincoln is America’s Better Angel – Joe Biden Needs His Spirit” urges a Guardian Heading. Over at Fox News the message reads: “How can Biden unite America? Renew Abraham Lincoln’s call to “bandage the wounds of the nation” with this observation: “Lincoln knew that all Americans are brothers and sisters.” These calls will appeal to Biden, a veteran Washington insider who ran for the 2020 presidency who preaches comity and reconciliation. At such a contradictory moment, what could be better than repeating the inaugural poetry of the 16th President? Why not talk about how “The mystical chords of memory that stretch from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth in this vast land” could “make the Union’s chorus swell when they are touched again by the better angels like them will certainly be. ” our nature ”?
The answer is more complicated than it may appear on the surface.
Biden will no doubt call for national unity – as new presidents invariably do, with the exception of Donald “American Carnage” Trump. It is not enough, however sincerely, to recall the tortured plea for reconciliation made by Lincoln in his inaugural address in 1861: “We are not enemies, but friends. We mustn’t be enemies. Although the passion may be tense, it must not break our bonds of affection. “While a poetic appeal to friendship would undoubtedly get high marks from newspaper editorial pages and a nod from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it will not be enough to rally the great bulk of Americans to carry the necessary burden of forging transformative change wear .
Biden’s point of reference for president was not to be Lincoln, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The 32nd President too took office at a time of crisiswhen the country was ravaged by economic depression, mass unemployment, confusion, and a deep sense of uncertainty as to whether anything could prevent further impoverishment and disorder. The FDR knew the country needed more than just healing. “The withered leaves of industrial companies lie on all sides; Farmers cannot find markets for their products; The long-term savings in thousands of families are gone. ” he confirmed on March 4, 1933. “More importantly, a large number of unemployed citizens are faced with the dire problem of existence and an equally large number are working with little return. Only a stupid optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. ”
Instead of feeling comfortable, the FDR called out Wall Street speculators, bankers and their conservative apologists. The nation is in crisis, he said, “because the rulers of the exchange of the goods of mankind have failed through their own stubbornness and incompetence.” He warned against compromising with those who defended the old order, reminded his audience::
Without the lure of profit to get our people to follow their wrong leadership, they have resorted to exhortations and tearfully begging for trust to be restored. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and if there is no vision, people die.
The money changers have fled their high places in the temple of our civilization. We can now lead this temple back to the ancient truths. The degree of restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary gain.
Roosevelt drew the lines of “against the return of the evils of the old order” and outlined a plan for “tight surveillance of all banks”, “an end to speculation” and the dramatic expansion of the role of government to remedy the unemployed, for farmers, those facing bankruptcy, and for homeowners facing foreclosure. FDR didn’t crush any words. He proposed an agenda to “treat the task as we would treat an emergency of war”. The agenda would become known as the New Deal. It proved so popular that Roosevelt’s Democratic Party expanded its congressional majorities in the 1934 midterm elections. and FDR was re-elected 1936 with 61 percent of the vote – with the exception of two states.
When he bid for this second of his four terms, Roosevelt explained::
We had to fight with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, ruthless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profit. They had begun to view the United States government as an appendix to their own affairs. We now know that organized money government is just as dangerous as organized mob government. Never before in our history have these forces been so united against a candidate as they are today. They unanimously hate me – and I applaud their hatred.
Franklin Roosevelt realized that while appeals to unity have their place, there are times when a call to action is needed. He delivered one in 1933 and it defined his presidency. Joe Biden would be wise to do the same in 2021.