Bob Franken




“What’s in a name?” as William Shakespeare wrote. But it doesn’t take a Shakespearean presidential speechwriter to know that the name means a lot. That’s why we have Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” which is what the administration calls his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, already signed into law. The “American Jobs Plan” is his preferred title for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, which ranges far beyond concrete. And now we have his “American Families Plan,” which rings in at $1.8 trillion and covers much of the rest of the domestic kitchen sink.
That’s it! In the grand tradition of FDR’s “New Deal” and LBJ’s “Great Society,” this one will be known to history as JRB’s “Kitchen Sink.” (Biden’s middle name is Robinette). And he came up with it in his first 100 days after succeeding Donald Trump, who didn’t succeed at much beyond dividing the nation even more.
On the night of President Biden’s 99th day, he finally made his first joint address to Congress. It was notable because of its diminished presentation (think of it as an Oscars show), notable because of his subdued rhetoric, and most notable because, for the first time in U.S. history — actually, it was herstory — the ones sitting at the rostrum overhead were both women: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Biden began his speech by saying:
“Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President” (applause).
“No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
It begs the question, of course, of when a joint session of Congress will be addressed by our first female president.
But some things were just the same: The Republican opposition characterized the Biden plans as socialism, just like they did back in New Deal days, as well as those of the Great Society, when the GOP was so against these equal-opportunity proposals that its sometimes hard to remember that the Republicans once opposed slavery. Now they have been taken over by the white supremacists who wanted to start a new civil war with their insurrection at the Capitol building in January. No thanks to the man in charge at the time, Donald Trump, their mutiny failed.
And now it’s up to Joe Biden to clean up his mess. Actually, his whole overall agenda could be better called “America’s Cleanup.”
We are still a nation where unnecessary police killings of minorities have become routine. Some members of law enforcement fancy themselves vigilante members of a lynch mob. So President Biden called for police reform and gun control measures, as massacres have also become routine.

He inherits a country whose very name is exaggerated. The United States of America are anything but. We are divided by race and violent racism; culturally; by religion; and by sexual approaches to love. We are certainly divided on the question of guns, perhaps hopelessly divided.
From the start, when the founders wrote a Constitution whose preamble promised to “promote the general welfare,” those celebrated authors only promoted the general welfare of some of us — namely, white men. All of the rest of us were oppressed and even treated as animals.
The president spoke to a Congress where some of the members had circulated a petition to create a caucus that celebrated “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” — meaning white people. So we certainly have far to go to achieve a society where everyone can share in the fruits of equal opportunity. Right now we are a dangerously split community.
In his speech, President Biden remarked on the importance of “turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setbacks into strength.” Oh, wait. Perhaps his plans will all become known as Joe Biden’s “American Possibility.”
But it’s also possible that the opposition prevails and Biden fails. In that case, Shakespeare could be his speechwriter — writing that it’s an obvious case of “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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