by William P. Muhammad
With an approval rating just below 40 percent, President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address—televised to a pandemic-weary public concerned with the economy, health care costs, and outbreak of war in Europe—pitched centrist and left-of-center solutions to a Congress hindered by partisan gridlock, the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections, and a dissatisfied American electorate.
Calling for the upgrade of America’s infrastructure, the relief of financial burdens upon the middle and working classes, the creation of jobs through technological innovation, and the promotion of a renewed “buy American” campaign, President Biden’s March 1 message transitioned from foreign to domestic policy which the Pew Research Center said, 71 percent of American adults want as the federal government’s top priority.
While Mr. Biden expressed empathy toward the large number of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and called for investigators to uncover and prosecute fraud, waste and abuse,” what becomes of that remains to be seen.
“That’s why one of the first things I did as president was fight to pass the American Rescue Plan,” the president said. “But in my administration, the watchdogs have been welcomed back,” he declared. “We’re going after the criminals who stole billions in relief money meant for small businesses and millions of Americans, and tonight, I’m announcing that the Justice Department will name a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud,” Mr. Biden later added.
University of Houston scholar of history and law, Professor Gerald Horne, said it’s hard to say whether such investigations will be brought to bear as a political cudgel, or if it will apply solely toward corrupt individuals seeking to enrich the few at the expense of the many.
“If they’ll be going disproportionately, after alleged fraud amongst Black entrepreneurs, obviously that’s why we have the Congressional Black Caucus, to keep an eye on that kind of thing and to make sure that there’s no discriminatory prosecutions,” said Prof. Horne.
For some critics, Biden did not address a key issue, particularly for Blacks.
“The Build Back Better program never happened,” argued Omowale Clay of New York’s December 12th Movement. “Very, very clearly our opposition is for President Biden to give a $50 billion, an executive order as a down payment on reparations to be targeted toward a health care plan for Black people. If there’s no down payment on reparations, then it ain’t nothing serious. All of this build reparations locally lets people off the hook because on the local level, they can never deal with the question of what’s really required,” he told The Final Call.
“Our position is the president must, as I say, put your money where your mouth is. We are owed reparations. Our health care is declining at a tremendous rate. A $50 billion executive order is under his power, not Congress, not Senate; $50 billion from his power can be his State of the Union. However, they’re over there pushing Russia around the question of the Ukraine.”
Regarding left-of-center legislation in the progressive wing of Mr. Biden’s Democrat Party, Prof. Horne told The Final Call there is little support, if not resistance, to effective immigration and police reforms, LGBTQ+ initiatives, and for the passage of the John Lewis Voter Reform Act. Mr. Biden did call on Congress to pass the LGBTQ+ targeted Equality Act, stating that its passage remained one of his administration’s highest priorities, and he condemned the “onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans.”
Though Prof. Horne said he agreed with the nomination of Ketanji Brown-Jackson, as the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court and that she has the support necessary to secure a Senate confirmation, he explained that seating a replacement justice to the existing 6-3 conservative majority, will change little and that Black America must learn to leverage its power to effect relevant legislative agendas and policies.
“The Democrats feel that they’ll take a pounding at the polls in November, so they’re scurrying to appear to be as close ideologically to the Republicans in certain critical issues,” Prof. Horne explained.
But could the political shift expressed in Mr. Biden’s address backfire? An election year shift to the center and embracing a strategy he hopes will protect fragile Democratic majorities in Congress may be the goal, but Mr. Biden could be risking a revolt from key voices across his party’s coalition and alienate Blacks in particular.
The Democratic president embraced Republican calls to strengthen the nation’s southern border and barely mentioned climate change. He glossed over concerns about voting rights and spent little time heralding his historic decision to nominate the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. On domestic issues, he was perhaps most blunt in disavowing the push from some Black Lives Matter activists to “defund the police.”
Polls suggest the party is losing support from almost every demographic at the outset of the 2022 campaign. But Mr. Biden’s effort to stabilize the party could alienate the coalition of Black people, young people, progressives, and independents who delivered him the presidency in 2020 and will be needed again this year.
Southwest Regional Student Minister of the Nation of Islam, Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, said his review of President Biden’s State of the Union address showed him that it is unrealistic for the masses to believe that party loyalty will solve the many problems ill-affecting Black and Brown communities, particularly in a time of partisan gridlock.
“I listened to the Republican governor, Kim Reynolds’, response, and I wrote down one word, “strong,” said Student Minister Muhammad, who holds a Ph.D. in urban planning. “That was probably one of the best political responses that I’ve ever heard to a State of the Union speech,” he added.
“What it reminds me (of) is that Minister Farrakhan said in ‘A Torchlight for America,’ that partisan politics must die if America is to live,” he said, referring to the book written by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. “And right now, I don’t see any end to the partisan politics even with Mr. Biden’s ‘Unity Agenda,’ (and) I don’t see them cooperating on these major issues during this election year,” he said.
Saying that he couldn’t predict the outcome of the national elections in 2024, because of what the Minister brought to light during his Saviours’ Day 2022 “Swan Song” message on February 27, Student Minister Muhammad said the likelihood of a deeper conflict between major world powers will change everything.
“When America is dragged into war, the patriotic fervor of America may just turn the election from what everyone was predicting it would be into something else,” he said. “In politics, we cannot be swayed by Liberal lies, Conservative cons, or moderate myths. This is about power, who possesses it, and how they’ll use it to benefit those who put them in power,” Student Minister Muhammad said.
Dr. Tony Monteiro told The Final Call, Black folks should be very concerned about Biden’s address and that though he kept his promise to name a Black woman to the highest court in the land, it is not enough. “In my opinion Biden made a lot of promises but his presidency quickly started to unravel. The promises that he made, he didn’t have the political, forces, to carry them out, to realize them. Campaign promises are one thing, but delivering on them is quite another thing,” said the Philadelphia-based scholar and activist.
“I think that we are in a special moment in American history. We don’t know what presidents are capable of doing, whether this country can be governed even. Or whether we have reached a moment of ungovernability. Politically we have reached what I call political statis or political impotence,” noted Dr. Monteiro.
“It’s not just Biden. It is the whole system that is in a state of crisis. People are increasingly not believing the system and the leaders or the spokesman for the system. Then you know on top of that, this whole thing of the American political order, political system where they are frankly more interested in consolidating their global hegemony than in delivering for the people,” he added. Dr. Monteiro called Mr. Biden’s address “pathetic” and the “speech of a failed presidency.”
There was frustration with Biden’s declaration that the nation’s police need more funding, seen by some as a tone-deaf overture to White voters at the expense of millions of Black Americans still waiting for the president to deliver promised policing reforms almost two years after George Floyd’s murder.
“Our party often, we target the White moderate, we target the White independent. And I get it, right. Those are the swing voters and we want to get them. But we continue to underestimate Black and Brown people,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. “I liked 95 percent of the speech, maybe even 97 percent, but he missed an opportunity to bring Black voters in more and voters of color in more,” he said.
Political commentator Charles Blow criticized Mr. Biden’s address for ignoring Black people. “If you were paying attention, Biden not once mentioned Black—Black people, African Americans, Negro—anything in that speech,” he stated on The Black News Channel. “I kept thinking to myself what a difference 300 days makes. When Biden gave his speech on the 100-day anniversary of him taking office there was a huge section in there quoted George Floyd’s daughter about ‘my dad’s going to make history’ and really hammering home, I think his quote was ‘we have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America,’” said Mr. Blow.
“That is how strong that passage was in Biden’s speech to Black people and about these issues supporting Black people in the 100 days speech. Not one word in this speech—even when he was speaking about Historically Black Colleges and Universities, he used the acronym. Even when he was speaking about his historic pick of a Black female Supreme Court justice, he didn’t even acknowledge her as a Black woman,” he continued.
“I’m getting a little disappointed with the president,” Quincy Thompson, a retired Washington, D.C., construction worker, told The Final Call,
“He’s starting to be a lot of talk with little action for the people who put him in office. What about us? He’s got a Black woman vice president, that’s good. He’s got a Black woman for the Supreme Court, that’s good too, but what about jobs?” he asked.
“I’m starting to feel a little used, like I’ve seen this movie before, and the outcome is the same all over again. I hope things turn out different but I’m not holding my breath. Why are we in Russia and Ukraine anyway? How do we have so much money to fight that war but no money to take care of people right here? Answer that Mr. President!”
Fatherhood Institute founder James Dickerson stated that he did not think it was the time to be concerned or upset by a political speech. “No, it’s not time to become enraged. The time for becoming enraged was a long time ago, he said. “It’s time for us to review history man, go back to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the teachings of Booker T. Washington, which talked about preparing ourselves. The Black community has not really fortified itself. You know, so, I believe we should move in that direction. I think that’s the direction we need to be taking,” said Mr. Dickerson.
(Final Call Staffers Starla Muhammad, Nisa Islam Muhammad, Michael Z. Muhammad and Associated Press contributed to this report.)