December 10, 2020
Social workers are understandably hopeful that a president Biden will prove to be a 21st-century Franklin Roosevelt – a centrist politician turned radical reformer in face of a grave national crisis. We need bold action on so many fronts – mass unemployment, systemic racism, debt, housing, criminal justice, voting rights, health care, gross wealth inequality, climate collapse…. Bernie Sanders, stumping for his “good friend Joe,” insisted that Biden was not just the anti-Trump, and promised that we’d be surprised by his vision and agenda for change.
But if a Zoom call this week with national civil rights leaders is any indication, Biden plans to be anything but the transformative president that the moment (notably tens of millions of marginalized, increasingly desperate, Americans) cries out for. He assured callers that he stands ready to take executive action to reverse horrible Trump executive orders, but otherwise will be conservative in using executive power; he must “respect the Constitution,” he says. He further tamped down expectations for bold action by reminding callers that Democrats don’t control the Senate, so getting anything substantive through Congress will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. When one caller suggested that black voters were already feeling disappointed by what they were hearing (or not) from the Biden transition team, the president-elect went on a short defensive rant about how he was “the only one” who dared to talk about racism during the campaign. “The words of a president matter!” he schooled his apparently naive listeners.
Yes, Joe, words matter; but actions matter more. And if Biden doesn’t act, and chooses to hide behind “my hands are tied” excuses for inaction, the biggest achievement of his presidency will almost certainly prove to be paving the way for Republicans to retake both Congressional chambers in 2022, and the presidency in 2024.