Photo credit: Gage Skidmore on flickr, CC license
Elections come with a political mandate. This means that through the election process, the voters authorize and order the elected leader to accomplish certain political tasks. These objectives can be pursued, through legislation, executive action, and in leadership style and temperament. Discerning the political mandate involves answering important questions: What was the margin of victory? What were the key distinguishing factors between candidates? What demographics or coalitions pivoted toward the candidate based on these distinctions? A President must be clear on the mandate given. If it is misinterpreted or the correct issues not prioritized, that President and Party will pay in the next election cycle. But more importantly, it will further diminish the trust of the people in the institution of the presidency and in the government in general.
What is President Joe Biden’s mandate after handling the COVID-19 crisis? First and foremost, after the corruption and utter disorder of the Trump administration, the American people have mandated that Biden restore the integrity and reputation of the presidency at home and abroad. Next, last year’s civil unrest, requires Biden to promote justice by working against government abuses of authority like police brutality without defunding the police. The populist outcry means that he’s also been elected to correct the economic, educational, and health disparities, along race and class lines, that have stifled the American Dream for too many.
These tasks are more than enough to keep even the most competent and efficient administration busy. But Biden will be pressured, by well-funded activists and their elite donors, to deliver their desperately craved culture war wins. He’ll be prodded to focus on esoteric and premature policy prescriptions that have yet to undergo thorough public debate and scrutiny. The Democratic Party has, in large part, become captured by causes that are trending among celebrities and academics, but do nothing to address our country’s greatest issues. Biden will be tempted to spend political capital pursuing policies that have garnered little support outside of bourgeois progressive circles, policies that were not pivotal factors in shaping his electoral win and are not critical elements of his mandate.
The populist surge in America isn’t a meritless or transient cause. It is the cry of the urban poor and those who Chris Arnade calls “Back Row America” in his book Dignity. These are people who’ve historically been discriminated against and/or have more recently been brought to their knees by economic failures. They’re continually falling behind and are dying from deaths of despair (drug overdoses and suicides). They need and deserve the President’s immediate and full attention. Progressive elites must wait. This is not their time. This is not their mandate.
Democrats run a high risk of prioritizing the wrong issues. Some Democratic governments nationwide have already begun to misjudge or entirely disregard their mandate from the people. The state of Illinois mirrors many of the problems in America in regard to education and economy but has chosen to achieve less valued goals.
In 2018 enough suburban voters in Illinois joined with an organized and energized base of African Americans to reject the re-election efforts of a quasi-conservative, billionaire Republican chief executive and solidify Democratic majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. It was a moment of great hope and promise. For the first time in a long time, nothing stood in the way of the Democrats’ agenda which was supposed to be anchored by concern for the poor and the vulnerable and a deep commitment to social justice.
But Illinois Democrats misinterpreted their mandate.
The priorities set in the first legislative session following this sweeping victory made painfully obvious the fact that the Democratic Party leadership was operating under a fundamentally different concept of “justice” than that of many of the people who had organized and voted to put them in power. In that first session they authorized more than a dozen new casinos, passed a massive expansion of abortion rights (in a state that was already one of the most permissive in America on abortion), and pushed through the statutory commercialization of recreational marijuana (in a state that had already decriminalized pot). That session saw no action on education funding reform, placing an elected school board in Chicago, or serious police accountability and reform. Even more community-friendly approaches to the marijuana legislation offered by the Illinois NAACP were rejected in favor of legislation offered by the marijuana lobby.
The prospect of a post-Trump era with Democratic majorities in Congress may, for many, represent a moment to hope. But similar policy distractions and the well-funded elites who support them lay in wait. Some of those policies - like The Equality Act - have already made their way into Biden’s 100 Day Plan.
The Equality Act is a seemingly benign policy with wide society-changing implications. It includes untested and vindictive measures hidden behind a benevolent title. Everyone supports “equality”, but most do not support closing down faith-based hospitals that refuse to do sex reassignment surgery. To be sure, LGBTQ civil rights are absolutely not a backburner issue. LGBTQ Americans should not be subjected to housing and job discrimination. But, while some of the provisions included in the legislation are necessary, it is also rife with progressive excesses that render the proposal a wolf in sheep’s clothing for faith-based institutions and parental rights. This is why it hasn’t been discussed in depth with the faith community, including and especially the Black and Brown Christians who elected Biden. Just like gambling, abortion, and marijuana were not what Democrats talked about when they campaigned in Black churches in Illinois.
The Equality Act has been pushed forward stealthy and with partisan sleight of hand - it’s discussed in name, but not in substance. More common sense approaches to dealing with the important issues are being rejected. For instance, the Fairness for All Act is a much more thoughtful alternative and protects LGBTQ people and religious institutions alike.
The priorities that the Democratic Party sets will be determined by how they choose to define “justice”. Will the party view “justice” through the lens of the wealthy liberal academic and donor class or through the lens of the felt needs of the people living in the inner cities, rural communities, and in the working-class suburbs that played such a pivotal role in delivering the White House and both chambers of Congress into Democratic hands?
In electing Joe Biden, the next President of the United States, the American people have not called for more recreational weed, sweeping redefinitions of gender, radically defunded police and more abortions. They have called for justice, education and training, jobs and a vision that brings them together by building on their common ground and advancing their common objectives.
Justin E. Giboney is an attorney, political strategist, president of the AND Campaign, and coauthor of Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement.
Chis Butler serves on the Executive Leadership Team of the AND Campaign and is a co-author of Compassion (&) Conviction.
Originally Published at:https://www.thecruxandthecall.com/latest-posts/2021/1/25/bidens-mandate
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