Quite the most dramatic feature of Joe Biden’s address to the nation on completing 100 days in office was the fact that two ladies, holding coveted appointments, were in attendance on the rarefied dais, sitting to the left and right of the US President. Thus did Vice-President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, craft a watershed chapter in the history of America.
Unmistakable too was the pregnant symbolism of the solemn occasion not the least because both Ms Harris and Ms Pelosi now personify the hierarchy of governance in the USA today. Well and truly has the President broken the historical glass ceiling. On closer reflection, the seating arrangement had a symbolic meaning in terms of the advancement of US women in recent decades. Ms Harris and Ms Pelosi are respectively first and second in the line of succession.
The former is the first black woman and the first Black and Asian person to serve as Vice-President. She sat on the President’s right. To his left was Ms Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. While Ms Harris is a close adviser and “tie-breaker” in an evenly divided Senate, Ms Pelosi helps marshal the President’s legislative agenda though Congress.
Their potential is, therefore, profound. As the pandemic overshadows governance, it will take a while to assess the President’s performance in a little over three months, however reassuring on several fronts. Small wonder the evaluation has been described by the BBC as a “glass half full/half empty sort of affair”, offering scope for mild optimism as much as cynicism, equally mild.
Mr Biden has presented his signal of intent through a presentation that has been compared to the President’s State of the Union address. On Wednesday night, he set before himself an ambitious agenda to redefine what they call the American “social compact” by expanding family leave, child and health care, pre-school and college education.
However ambitious, the essay towards the goalposts will be financed with increased taxes on the “wealthiest earners”. Theoretically, the plan of action ought to translate as the Benthamite doctrine ~ “the greatest good of the greatest number”. There has been a fundamental reorientation in the role of governance as Mr Biden invokes the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He has unveiled a $1.8 trillion social spending plan to buttress previous proposals to build roads and bridges, expand social welfare programmes, and combat climate change. While he had positioned himself during the election campaign as a “transition candidate” post-Trump, there is little doubt that he has now posited himself as a transformational President. Indubitably, he is attempting a redistribution of wealth and has thus played to the gallery of the progressives. He has unveiled the agenda behind the microphone.