Time for Joe and the Rest of Us to Get to Work.
Updated: Feb 10
Last Wednesday was a day of joyous celebration for those on the Left and their friends.
Biden's inauguration passed peacefully. The poems and songs, the fireworks and flags, the star-spangled celebrations were all uplifting. For Joe, this was the ecstatic culmination of what has been a lifetime's mission - he first ran for President way back in Summer of 1987. People across America and around the world went to bed deliriously happy.
But for many, the sweet dreams were more about the end of Trump than the arrival of the new incumbent.
And therein, I fear, lies the problem.
With COVID having rendered big political rallies, live debates and baby-kissing trips to swing states a non-starter, it's fair to say the General Election of 2020 was less a battle of ideas and more a referendum on Trump's character and suitability to hold the highest of offices.
So as Democrats enter the White House, is there an 'oven ready' manifesto?
Clinton came in raging about 'Change', Obama promised 'Hope'... what is Biden's rallying cry?
Biden's first act on the first day of his administration was to roll back many of Trump's policies and positions. Re-joining the Paris Climate Accord and the WHO, halting the Mexico border wall and cancelling the Keystone Alaska pipeline were all broadly welcomed and appreciated by voters on the Left.
But just 'Not Being Trump' isn't going to be enough for long.
The way the US election cycle works, new Presidents often enter the White House enjoying the support of both the House and Senate. This is true for Biden, albeit by wafer thin margins.
This is the political high tide, the time for action. This is when you get your detail-oriented, campaign-tested, costed and smartly articulated policy initiatives over the line.
It is the time for bold changes to tax codes, reform of healthcare, gun control, social justice and equality of opportunity, and to open the bank for big ticket federal funding for infrastructure and economic development projects.
Everything we expect from a progressive administration.
But it is unclear whether Biden has such a raft of policies in mind. He needs to not only undo the bad of the past four years, he needs to propose and deliver a program of progressive change now before the inevitable slide back to a regrouped and re-energised Republican-led Congress begins.
As American architect Daniel Burnham once said in an entirely different context, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized".
There is no shortage of big ideas and blood-stirring magic coming out of the American Left at the moment. Ideas are everywhere amongst new active citizen groups, campaigners and those dedicated to changing the status quo.
The Democratic Primary Elections were a lively affair with political debate from a wider spectrum of viewpoints than ever before. As well as the noisy clamour for Bernie Sanders' 'Medicare for All', the Democrats also saw sizeable support for other radical positions and arguments: The Green New Deal; Bloomberg's job-creation ideas; Andrew Yang's fixed income pledge; Tom Steyer's climate-friendly entrepreneurial plan; and the 'Generation Change' ideas of Pete Buttigieg - who many felt was the best candidate that somehow 21st century America wasn't quite ready for.
So what should Biden do? Clearly, COVID 19 is Job #1 and the quick rollout of the vaccine is central to that, but getting the unemployed and furloughed back into work follows closely behind.
In fact, job creation should be front and center for the early Biden administration. Jobs and work are so often the answer to so many of America's problems, especially if they are the right jobs in the right places.
Jobs also win votes - after all, it's pretty difficult to get elected opposing job creation or being 'anti-job' . Having people in work and earning salaries with benefits is a stable launch pad from which to work on the beefier challenges of greening the new economy, fixing healthcare, rebuilding trust in America while protecting our allies, and finally getting round to tackling institutionalized long term social injustice and inequality.
Wanting to create jobs is hardly radical in itself, but with only a few notable exceptions, delivering it at scale would be. Rather than sinking hundreds of billions into federal tax breaks and incentives for big business to slowly do what it was probably going to do anyway, or continuing the failed tax giveaway of Opportunity Zone programs which have delivered very few actual new jobs, the Biden team should get behind county and state level schemes which tie supply side skills and training with demand side investment and innovation. They should be politically expedient too and link Governors, Mayors, Senators and Representatives into the plan - most of whom have a date at the ballot box looming in the 2022 mid-term elections to help focus their thinking.
Pilot programs like ProjectQuest and WorkAmerica and those schemes supported by National Fund for Workforce Solutions already exist. And where public and third sector players like local government, hospitals, universities and utilities have been harnessed to drive development too, success has followed. Where unemployment is at its most chronic in urban cities and rural municipalities, those who have used vacant land and property to provide badly needed social and affordable housing solutions have also seen the benefits of quickly providing construction and supply chain employment opportunities. In hurricane-ravaged Panama City, Florida vacant malls are being rezoned for mixed use with housing schemes.
"Jobs Now" - shout it loud Joe!
It's a refrain which has worked before, and its probably your best chance for this administration to keep Congress on side, counter the populist Right-Wing rising out of Trump's ashes, and give you the time to work on some of that other stuff.
Martin Liptrot is a public affairs and political consultant. After a global career in lobbying, advertising and public relations, he now works with businesses, organisations and campaigns to 'Make Good Ideas Happen'.