OPINION: Biden admits that maybe he’s been skipping class, especially with African American voters. Maybe when he does show up in the future he won’t be empty handed like he was in Georgia last week.
In December, my editor asked me to write a “Black Report Card” to assess how well President Joe Biden had done for Black voters in his first year in office. This is right in my wheelhouse; I’m a college professor so I still actually grade papers, and I love a top 10 list, Black Power Ranking or any other way I can point out how consistently Democrats (and some Republicans) beg for Black votes then ghost us when it’s time for policy.
I had even looked up a few first year report cards online and I was going to fill them with categories like Listening Skills: Pays Attention to Black Organizers and Mathematics: Can Count the 50 Senators He Needs to Pass Policy. Of course, all of that was thrown out the window after Biden’s nearly two-hour press conference on Wednesday where he dropped this gem of a quote:
“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done.”
At that point I just threw out my grade book. I realized that I couldn’t give Biden grades for his first year in office. I don’t think Joe Clark could find it in his heart to give this man a grade. I don’t think the tough love of Mrs. Barbara Howard at Abbott Elementary would give Joe Biden a grade. Why? Because after his presser it would be unfair to give that man a grade because he clearly doesn’t understand the assignment.
Rihanna understands the assignment, Barack and Michelle Obama understood the assignment (even if it took the former president a year or so), clearly Mitch McConnell understands the assignment, but if Joe Biden is shocked that the same Republicans who pledged to stop his previous boss former President Obama for doing anything, are equally committed to stopping his agenda he didn’t understand the job.
Which begs the question, how can we give Joe Biden a Black agenda report card when he clearly never read the room let alone the job description post Donald Trump? Some of his ineptitude this first year was expected. During the 2020 campaign, while I thought Biden had the best chance to beat Trump — and that was the number one goal — he was still selling this fantasy that the GOP would have some sort of post-Trump epiphany about their obstructionism and go back to ‘normal.’
I assumed that after Republicans coaxed a mob to attack election certification and kill former Vice President Mike Pence that Biden might’ve had an epiphany and realized that he needed to use every bit of power in his arsenal to secure voting rights, punish the insurrectionists in the GOP and reward the Black voters who got him into office. I was mistaken.
US President-elect Joe Biden (R) arrives next to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 7, 2020, after being declared the winners of the presidential election. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
If one of my students gives a class presentation where they clearly didn’t know what they were doing, I always tell them to go back and read the syllabus. In the case of President Biden, the syllabus is the 92-page Democratic Party platform from 2020. It has extensive sections on the economy, criminal justice reform, voting rights and COVID-19 relief, all of which are issues that drove Black people to the polls in 2020 and secured his victory.
There are a number of people out there who want to grade what Biden has done on a “he’s not Trump” curve, but I’m not willing to re-evaluate every previous functional president with some sort of Trump “grade inflation.” Besides, the 2020 GOP Party platform was literally a loyalty pledge to Trump that clocks in a few words longer than a tweet but shorter than a “Do you like me” note you passed to someone in junior high.
Here’s the short list of where the Democratic syllabus addressed Black folks:
Biden may not have understood the entire assignment on the economy but I can give him partial credit for the American Rescue Plan. The highlight of which was the largest attempt to address decades-long discrimination against Black farmers. Conservative bigots hated the bill so Biden had to be doing something right.
Criminal Justice Reform
The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act assignment was due on May 25 2021, the anniversary of Floyd’s murder. Unfortunately it was a group project where only U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) did any work, and Republican Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) showed up at the last minute to ruin the whole project because he was a plant from a rival high school.
Biden could have earned some extra credit on this assignment by insisting that any city using the extra $350,000 in COVID relief funds could only be used in police departments that enacted some of the reforms in the Floyd bills. But he didn’t because he was convinced that offering Black people a holiday that we had been celebrating for a century was the best way to address a massacre by white terrorists.
Remember back in high school that one time you had a big project due at the end of the year that you totally forgot about? Then at 9 o’clock on Thursday you’re begging your parents to take you to Target so you can get egg crates and cotton balls to re-create the solar system for first period science class Friday morning? But your parents are sick of you doing work at the last minute so they won’t take you? This is Joe Biden when it comes to voting rights.
Yes, he appointed some great people to the Department of Justice and Merrick Garland has sued Texas and Georgia over their voter suppression laws, but this falls way short of what was promised by the party platform. Biden was supposed to push to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state and pass two major pieces of voting rights legislation. Not one of these things is likely to happen before the November 2022 midterm elections where Republican legislatures have made it all but illegal to vote while Black, or poor, or a college student or a Democrat.
Black people can’t fail Joe Biden this early in his presidency, the polls are already doing that. However, he can get a massive incomplete for proving himself entirely unwilling or unable to anticipate Republican resistance, Democratic recalcitrance and refusing to use the power at his disposal (like firing the parliamentarian to raise the minimum wage) to even get close to the assignments that he told us he was going to do.
To his credit, President Biden admits that maybe he’s been skipping class, especially with African American voters, and maybe when he does show up in the future he won’t be empty handed like he was in Georgia last week. However, at some point the expectation is that he’s actually going to do the work that he was assigned, present it to Black voters and get graded on Election Day this fall.
We can only hope he realizes that if he doesn’t move Black voters to the polls, there won’t be any chance for a make-up test in a Republican-controlled House or Senate.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.
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