S.E. Williams |

Followers of this column will not be surprised to learn I voted for Joe Biden.

I voted for him not because he was my first choice but because he was the last man standing among Democrats. I voted for him out of an abundance of hope he would deliver on the promises he made to millions of people of color, women, Dreamers, and others who believe the nation’s historical penchant for  institutional and systemic inequities must be acknowledged, repudiated, and remediated. 

There was little question about Biden’s history as a moderate nor how, at times, moderate and conservative Democrats have slowed or deterred progress proposed by the more liberal or progressive members of the caucus seeking progressive change regarding issues of inequity on one hand; or blatantly advocating against progress in other instances. And so, to placate and lure progressive support during the 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden made big promises in support of several policies supported by them.

Those promises included raising the national minimum wage, immigration reform, voting rights, George Floyd inspired police reform, aggressively addressing climate change, protecting  a woman’s right to choose, and rolling back the Trump era tax cuts among others. 

Moderate Black Democratic leaders gave Biden the “Black people’s seal of approval” reminding the community Biden was a loyal second to America’s first Black President, Barack Obama . . .there were hints that Biden would select a female (possibly Black) running mate–he eventually selected Kamala Harris–and he promised to appoint a Black woman to the nation’s highest court. 

Finally, for those who remained skeptical of Biden’s ability to win, his supporters spoke ad nauseum about “his good relationships” with many Republicans and his track record of bringing people together in the Senate to get things done. Inferring he could pull some Republicans to cross over and vote for him and against Trump. 

A Master Negotiator? 

I recently reread an article published by Politico in January titled, “Enemies, a Love Story: Inside the 36-year Biden and McConnell Relationship.” It reminded me of how Biden never really lived up to his  bona fide as a master at negotiating with the Senate during the Obama years.

Rereading the article reminded me of how former President Barack Obama had promised to do away  with the Bush era tax cuts during his campaign and how former Senate leader (Democrat) Harry Reid played hardball with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell as he worked to deliver on Obama’s’ promise to reverse the tax cuts.  

It was December 2012, the Democrats controlled the Senate  and former Senate leader Harry Reid was driving a hard negotiation with Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell to roll back Bush’s tax cuts. In the middle of those negotiations however, then Vice President Biden stepped in and took the mantle from Reid (with Obama’s support). The process quickly flipped from the hardball, hold-the-line, take-no-prisoners approach being spearheaded by Reid to the go along to get along and, accommodating approach of Biden.

Former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (Source: congressional record)

In the end, due to Biden’s kumbaya negotiations, the Obama administration fell far short of its promise to rollback the Bush tax cuts, ending up with a meager 1.8 percent cut which left 98.2 percent of the Bush era tax cut in place. Biden was the man Obama counted on to negotiate with the Senate and too often, the negotiations came up short. For this among other reasons, I could never fully invest in the myth of Biden as the great, man-in-the-middle negotiator.

I do not see how things have changed in this regard since the Obama years. Today, Biden knows what he promised to get the votes but he also knows the hearts of conservatives in the Senate–he worked with them for 39 years.  He broke bread with them…laughed in back rooms  with them…cut deals with them, though too often against the interest of people of color.

The company he kept

Biden was professionally close to known racists like former Georgia Senator and vocal segregationist, Herman Talmadge. Biden has bragged about his relationship. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything,” he said during the 2020 campaign as evidence of his ability to strike deals. “We got things done. We got it finished,” he opined.

He was a buddy of former Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland. “He never called me a boy. He always called me son,” he proclaimed during the 2020 campaign as he bragged about his ability to reach agreement with the staunchest racists. He was roundly criticized when he said this and justly so. Biden  is not Black so of course Eastland would see him—a younger, White,  grown man as a “son” and not a “boy” as Eastland used to refer to a grown Black man of any age—including those who were senior to him. Some of us can not forget how Biden initially refused to apologize for his cavalier attitude regarding his Eastland “never called me a boy,” comment.

Segregationists Senators: Strom Thurman, James O. Eastland, Herman Talmadge. (Source: Congressional Record)

And, what about Eastland’s comments during a segregationists’ rally in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott where the handbill for the event read in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Whites are created equal with certain rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of dead ni**ers.” It continued, “In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of Black slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking ni**rs. The conduct should not be dwelt upon because behind them they have an ancestral background of Pigmies, head-hunters and snot suckers.“

And what Black person of a certain age can forget Biden’s eulogizing South Carolina segregationist Senator Strom Thurman. Thurman whose name remains as synonymous with White supremacy and hate, as any other segregationist whether you consider his support of the Southern manifesto against civil rights, the mixed-race child Thurman fathered and hid, or any other racist act or statement he delivered in between. This man hand-picked Biden to give testimony to his life and vouch for his humanity after his death.  

How do Biden’s past influence the present

I am rehashing this 2020 Presidential Campaign criticisms not because I believe Joe Biden is a racist but because I believe he’s played the good ole boys’ game of going along to get along for political acceptance and survival. I do not believe he is a racist but to me this does not absolve him. He had choices then and he has choices now.

I point to these relationships because after 39 years Biden knows the hearts of the racists he’s dealing with. Some of the names of senators may be different, but their racist ideology is the same and if anything, more sinister and dangerous. He worked too closely with them all those years not to know this. He also knows they have not changed.

He was Obama’s liaison to the Senate, and rarely did it make a single bit of difference—the Obama legislative agenda was ripped apart by them. Republicans may claim their efforts were purely partisan, but we know it was primarily a racist backlash against the audacity of a Black man daring to believe himself worthy of the presidency.

Biden must know this, just as he must know there is a jangling expectation he delivers on the promises  made to the nation’s Black Indigenous and other People of Color as well as members of LGBTQ+ communities who went all in and elected him to the presidency. 

The invoice for such support is overdue. It is a bill that has been passed from one Democratic president to the next—unfulfilled promises to pull out all the stops to make BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people in America whole citizens of this country imbued with the same rights, opportunities, and privileges of every White American. 

These communities have grown tired of incrementalism, failure and marble-mouth excuses. It is past time for Biden and the Democrats to play political hardball—even with members of their own party. How and why are two members of the Democratic Party able to successfully block every piece of Biden legislation is unfathomable. Unless Biden is using them to hide the fact that maybe he was never sincere in his promises for meaningful change, his hesitancy to demand decisive action makes no sense.

Maybe Biden is stuck in the era where he glad-handed the likes of Talmadge, Eastland, Thurman and others, and in the mindset that people struggling for equity need to be patient.     

This is not that time

I assure you President Biden, this is not that time. We expect you to use your bully pulpit to call these senators out. To expose how their senate seats were largely purchased by big pharma and the oil and coal industries, expose those perpetuating racist ideology.  What is the worst that can happen? They won’t vote for your legislation? They are not voting for it anyway. They might switch parties? If so, would it be that big of a loss since they stand in the way of nearly every meaningful piece of legislation you seek or at best, water it down to meaninglessness?

The voters who supported you expect results, not the usual, “We tried but we couldn’t get it done,” excuse for failure.

President Biden must boldly push for the elimination of the filibuster. It is the only way this frail and barely patched together democracy will survive. It is the only way to ensure equity for those entitled to it. Also, twice since Biden took office in January the appointed  Senate parliamentarian has blocked key progressive initiatives–once in relation to increasing the national minimum wage and more recently regarding immigration. 

Democratic Senate Leader Senator Chuck Shumer (Source: Congressional Record)

Democratic Senate Leader Senator Chuck Shumer has the authority to either replace or overrule her decisions. Twice since the 1970s decisions by the parliamentarian were struck down or ignored–both times by Republicans. Why are Democrats afraid to act? So far, increasing the national minimum wage is dead, the George Floyd police reform legislation is dead, the push for legalization of qualified immigrants is dead. What other dreams will the Biden White House watch go up in flames?

We know it has been less than a year since Biden took office, but we also know the window for meaningful change is closing. It is time to deliver voting rights, police reform, citizenship for Dreamers, immigration reform, women’s rights, abortion rights, a national minimum wage in adition to physical and human infrastructure legislation. 

Remember, people judge you, Mr. President, by the company you keep. We know you want to be the man in the middle, we know you believe you can wallow with swine and not get dirty–not true, Mr. President.  It is time for you to fight harder with greater integrity, and  dance with those who brought you to the presidency. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I am keeping it real.

Header photo: (source: mxtube.net)