A little more than a decade ago, in 2009, the United States teetered on the edge of a second Great Depression. Congress had passed the Recovery Act, an $800 billion economic stimulus bill.
Signing the legislation, President Barack Obama turned to Vice President Joe Biden and thanked him for working behind the scenes to get the deal done.
Then Obama handed the whole thing off to Biden to oversee.
Republicans despised the Recovery Act, offended by all that government spending. Liberal Democrats bemoaned it didn’t go far enough.
But Biden went to work. He pushed federal agencies to move quickly, traveled the country to check out stimulus projects in action, and talked on the phone with a rotating and bipartisan group of governors and mayors. He laid down a “24-hour rule” — any question from a governor or mayor had to get answered within 24 hours.
The Recovery Act worked. One year later, independent analysts such as Moody’s credited it with saving or creating up to 1.8 million jobs. Whole sectors of the economy, most famously the auto industry, were saved from ruin. And eight years later, the Obama administration handed off to President Trump a strong and growing economy.
Imagine, if you will, how much better shape our country would be in today had the Trump administration responded in the same bold, centralized and fact-driven way to the crisis of COVID-19.
Imagine the tens of thousands of Americans who might still be alive.
Today, we endorse Joe Biden for president. We endorse him on his own merits. He is a person of honor and eminently qualified, by virtue of a long and capable career as a senator and vice president, to hold the highest office in the land.
It would be enough for us to argue here for a vote against Donald Trump. Our country can’t take any more of him. If the Democratic alternative were a sock puppet, we’d urge a vote for the sock puppet. But in Biden and his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, we see a team — and an agenda — well worth voting for.
Change is the constant
Joe Biden is a mainstream Democrat. Always has been and always will be, to the relief of many likely voters in this election and the disappointment of others. Unlike today’s Republicans, Biden is not one to build up dams against social change even as people drown. His instinct is to ride the flow, accepting that change is the only constant in a democracy committed to justice. But he worries about the river swamping its banks.
Over the course of almost a half-century career in positions of power — he first was elected to the Senate in 1973 — Biden has taken stands that look regrettable today, taken other stands that have held up as laudable and even prescient, and, more than anything else, moved forward with the times by following his conscience.
It’s in the nature of mainstream Democrats like Biden to move — carefully and seeking consensus — onto ideological ground that has been clear-cut for occupation by Americans more on the vanguard of social change. They tend to follow, with a new awareness, in the paths of trailblazers like John Lewis, Larry Kramer, Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Learning and growing
In his earlier years in Washington, Biden, like most Democrats of the time, was a “tough on crime” warrior. He wrote the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which created mandatory sentencing rules for drug crimes that led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown men.
But Biden learned and grew, a characteristic of the man. In 2008, he backed elimination of a core component of the 1994 law, a racist sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
More to the point, he admitted he’d been wrong.
“I am part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then,” he said at a 2008 Senate hearing.
Imagine a president who can admit a mistake.
As the Democratic nominee for president, Biden is now forcefully on the right side of criminal justice reform. He wants to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, end the death penalty, ban private prisons, decriminalize marijuana and get rid of cash bail.
Powerful thread of empathy
Biden’s life, personally and professionally, has been the story of a man inclined to learn, adapt, do what’s right, get things right, find common ground and bounce back. For his family and his country. A strong thread of empathy runs through his entire career.
Biden co-sponsored the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which challenged the idea that domestic abuse is only a “family matter” and rejected the notion that victims of sexual abuse bring it upon themselves. Victims now could sue their attackers in civil court. Federal money would flow to support local investigations of violent crimes against women. Abusers would be made to pay restitution.
On LGBTQ rights, as on criminal justice issues, Biden also evolved. And, again, the conversion was real.
In 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which blocked federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Two years before that, he voted to cut off funds to schools that teach the acceptance of homosexuality. But in 2012, as vice president, he became the highest ranking Democrat to endorse same-sex marriage, opening the gate in Washington to a flood of acceptance. Since then, he has personally presided over same-sex marriages.
Joe Biden was born in 1942. He is not a young man. But in his insistence on embracing the nation that we are today — all colors, religions, genders and identities — he is an American for 2020. He has welcomed dramatic and overdue shifts in political and economic power-sharing, as reflected in his choice of Harris as his running mate.
A promising vice president
Biden has said he would be a “transitional” president, if only because of his age, and that’s true. Chances are, he’d serve only a single four-year term. It’s all the more historic and significant, then, that he chose as his second in command the capable Harris, the nation’s first Black and first South Asian American vice presidential nominee. She belongs to that great majority of Americans — talented women and people of color — who have been held back too long.
Like Biden, Harris is a centrist Democrat who leans a little progressively left. She’s no crazy radical, whatever one might hear on Twitter.
As a prosecutor in California, Harris went hard after sexual predators and treated teenage sex workers like the victims, not criminals, that they are. As attorney general in California, she refused to defend Proposition 8, a state ban on same-sex marriage. As a senator, she has been a leading advocate for saner gun laws, within the limits of the Second Amendment, and among the most prepared and pointed questioners of second-rate Trump nominees, such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Our nation’s next president will face five great challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and economic injustice, a devastated economy, the existential threat of climate change and our nation’s lost position of respect and influence in the world. None of this had to be, not to this level of crisis, but Trump and his crowd have trashed everything they’ve touched.
We believe Biden and Harris have the skills and experience to take on those big challenges, and their policy agenda — though hardly as bold as a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders might wish — moves in the right direction.
Certainly, nobody is better prepared than Biden, a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to repair relations with our nation’s traditional allies and stand up to Trump’s best friend forever, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Yet this election isn’t really about resumes and policy positions. Everybody knows that. It’s about decency. Biden is decent and Trump is not. It’s about character. Biden has character and Trump does not. It’s about honesty. Biden is honest and Trump is a liar.
It’s about goodness. Biden is a good man.
In this election, as Sanders said at the Democratic Convention on Thursday, that alone should be enough to earn your vote for Biden.
“In Joe Biden, you have a human being who is empathetic, who is honest, who is decent,” Sanders said. “And at this particular moment in American history, my God, that is something that this country absolutely needs. And all of us, whether you’re progressive, whether you’re moderate or conservative, have got to come together to defeat this president.”
We endorse Joe Biden for president.
Because, no lie, this really is a battle for the soul of America.
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