What Biden needs to do next if he wants to keep Black voters engaged
OPINION: At Tuesday’s State of the Union, the president has an opportunity to get voters interested in the midterm elections and the threats that lie ahead.
As the midterm elections approach and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings continue to slip, I have a few words of advice for the president. Black voters are consistently faithful voters and supporters of the Democratic Party. Black women, in particular, serve as the backbone of the party and, dare I say, democracy as a whole. President Biden recognizes this fact and did not only choose Kamala Harris as his running mate, helping to elect the first Black woman as vice president—he also promised on the 2020 campaign trail to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court (a promise he kept). But just like Paula Abdul said in Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” video, “I know he used to do nice things for you, but what has he done for you lately?”
Biden has his hands full domestically and internationally, but there are a few things the president must keep in mind if he wants to survive what looks like an unfavorable midterm season and a presidential re-election campaign just around the bend. If Biden wants to ensure Black interest, participation and support in the upcoming elections, he needs to get his head in the game and remember it was Black voters who saved his presidential aspirations and helped deliver the elusive Oval Office to a man who faithfully served the first Black president.
Biden made some significant promises during the campaign to signal to Black voters his understanding of this nation’s complex racial and racist history. Unlike his predecessor, Biden was able to articulate policy positions that weren’t cloaked in the “all tides lift all boats” race-neutral philosophy. Biden was clear that certain policies disproportionately affected Black citizens, ranging from maternal health, the criminal justice system, economic opportunities and correcting historical wrongs.
So, I’d bring up the following if I could pull Biden’s coattail for a moment to let him know that when it comes to Black voters, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” Biden will address the nation Tuesday evening in his first State of the Union, where he will lay out his party’s policy platforms for the upcoming months. Black voters will be watching and listening, and I suggest Biden and the Democratic Party figure out the following:
1. Figure out a way to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
I don’t care how much he needs to beg, borrow or steal, he needs to figure out a way to get those two rogue senators from West Virginia and Arizona to get on the train or get run over by the train. Biden needs a bit more of that old-fashioned Lyndon B. Johnson bully-mode. True, President Johnson had a much larger majority when he helped usher through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Immigration Act. However, Johnson knew how to put some bass in his voice and get the votes needed. The Senate in which Biden was elected so many decades ago no longer exists. Republicans are not his friend, and they do not want him to succeed. They will not compromise, so it is imperative he gets his party in order and pass legislation, even with a slim margin.
2. Support the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson without hesitation or equivocation.
Biden nominated a woman whose qualifications exceed most of the justices currently sitting on the bench. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated by President Biden last year for the federal bench, so despite what we know will be an onslaught of racist and sexist attacks on this supremely qualified judge, Biden must not waver or cave to Republican demands for a “less radical” nominee. To some, Judge Jackson’s skin color may be radical, but her jurisprudence surely is not. She has served as an agent of the court with the utmost professionalism, and since Biden nominated her from a plethora of qualified Black female judges, he must now stand firm in his decision. He said what he said; now, he must continue to say it with his chest.
3. Use executive orders when he needs to.
The executive office has two powerful tools in the Constitution: the veto power and the ability to sign executive orders. Although executive orders are not a law (that takes cooperation from Congress), they do have the weight of law until the president’s successor dissolves it or if judges rule it unconstitutional. Within Biden’s limits as president, I implore him to think of creative ways to use the power of his office with his slim majority in Congress and possible divided government after the November elections.
4. Don’t mimic the crime bill of 1994 in 2022.
Crime is rising in cities across the country, and there is an appetite from Republicans and Democrats to “get tough on crime” and pass legislation similar to the 1994 crime bill, which affected Black and Latinx communities for decades with draconian policies, mandatory minimums, hyper-funding for policing and disinvestment in social services that could prevent crime. Biden helped author the bill, which even had the support of several Black mayors and voters back then, but history has shown us the error in their ways. With rising spikes in crime due to growing COVID-related unemployment, we must not go back to what we know; we must think of new and creative ways to govern in times of increased instability and crime.
5. Remember that all politics is local.
Biden is dealing with several crises abroad, not just the war between Ukraine and nuclear weapon possessor Russia; the latent threats from North Korea persist, as does the fallout from our 20 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Biden must walk and chew gum simultaneously. As he thinks about the safety of America on a national scale, he must also remember Americans who have policy needs for better housing, education, gun safety, public safety, healthcare, and so much more.
I don’t envy President Biden and the tasks that lay ahead. On Tuesday evening at the State of the Union, I will be listening for his analysis of how these issues will affect Black Americans specifically. Biden has an opportunity to get all voters interested in the midterm elections and the threats that lie ahead. Hopefully, he will be able to articulate his vision, accomplishments, and willingness to do all he can to protect this country from international and domestic threats.
Christina Greer is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, a political analyst at thegrio.com, and the author of “Black Ethnics”. Her research and teaching focus on American politics, black ethnic politics, urban politics, and campaigns and elections.
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