In Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and The Vile, Winston Churchill leads England through twelve months of incessant German bombing that killed 45,000 Britons and wounded countless more. His responsibilities for mobilizing the material and human resources needed to meet that challenge were extraordinary. By his own example, with oratory that lifted spirits even as it reported hard facts, and with heart wrenching empathy for his nation’s suffering, Churchill inspired his fellow citizens to hold together in resistance to Hitler’s attacks. And all while he was diplomatically nurturing an alliance with the United States he believed would be needed to win the war. The contrast to America’s leadership today is breathtaking.
Our nation now faces multiple existential crises of our own: A pandemic threatens the lives of millions and is destroying the economy; rising oceans threaten coastal cities, extreme wealth disparity mutes our democratic voice, and intractable racial discrimination tortures our people of color and is fueling civil unrest.
Our nation is starved for leadership that can speak to and for us all, that will rally us to a strategic common defense against threats that confront us. Like Churchill, Biden is human with faults and limitations but also has the experience, compassion, and strength of character to lead citizens toward each other. A clear, humble offer to do so should be Joe’s reason for running, and the heart of his campaign.
Joe does not need to pretend to be populist; he genuinely loves people and has been a bridge builder throughout his long career. He does not need to be the smartest guy in the room; he has the experience and connections to find the best talent in America, and he knows how to deploy it. He doesn’t need to be served or flattered; his ego is strong and he respects the role of a true public servant. He may not be a man for all seasons, but he is the man for this one.
The mission I propose for President Biden, should he choose to accept it, is to begin a transition from chaos to order, from decay to growth, from belligerence to collaboration, from the celebration of ignorance to a demand for good governance, from division to unity, and from politics of anger to a renewed social contract based on love. There is nothing he needs to prove, he just needs to bring his best self to the service of his country at a time of great need.
What might the platform for such a mission look like? Here are a few things I would love to hear him say.
I will listen respectfully to all voices, but will amplify only those that speak respectfully of all.
In seeking solutions to legitimate immigration problems, answers based in bigotry and solutions that rely on cruelty will never be acceptable.
I will nominate judges and justices for their maturity, wisdom, and good judgment, not for partisan ideology.
And, a bit more specifically….
I will Restore America’s credibility and role as a stabilizing force for freedom and security in the world. For example, I will:
- Rebuild global trust in America’s commitments;
- Support international projects that combat threats to U.S. security such as NATO, global warming initiatives, nuclear proliferation treaties, and global health and pandemic prevention networks; and
- Keep support for democratic self-rule around the world at the core of our international policy.
I will rebuild a government by the people, for the people, and of the people by:
- Demanding government agencies and processes be effective, transparent, and accountable;
- Assuring that federal agencies and employees serve the public and the mission of their office, not me or my Party;
- Promoting passage of the House passed Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act;
- Telling you the truth so you can judge my actions and policies accurately;
- Recruiting people to my cabinet, and to critical government positions, based on their integrity, relevant experience, and proven competence; and
- Seeking Congressional restoration of the full Voting Rights Act, opposing all forms of voter suppression, and promoting universal voter participation.
I will pursue long overdue economic reforms that reduce socially crippling disparities in wealth and income and assure an adequate income for everyone who is willing or unable to work. To do so, I will:
- Reverse and revise tax policies that skew more than 90% of the benefits of economic growth to those who need it least and away from those who need it most;
- Address the unsustainable reality that 60% of jobs in America do not pay a living wage; and
- Pursue economic models for sharing costs of critical common needs like education, health care, and childcare so as to liberate all Americans to pursue their individual goals and dreams.
He doesn’t need to do all this himself or even in four years. He just needs to remind us that our country once valued these things, and that democracy and civilization are ongoing projects we once took seriously, and could again.