A PROMISING START - Hepburn's Humanitarianism should serve as a guide for the Biden Administration
As more of our family, friends, and acquaintances become vaccinated, outnumbering the people we know who caught COVID-19 or died because of the virus, we begin to see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. There is cause for optimism, as the Monitor’s David Brooks noted in his March 16 weekly Covid Tracker, as well as cause for concern. We must remain vigilant.[i]
In Washington, the new administration is hard at work carrying out the business of buying vaccines, assisting with administering the vaccines, ensuring that all communities are afforded the opportunity to be vaccinated, and dealing with the economic fallout of a year besieged by the unrelenting pandemic.
Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (the “Plan”) and we will see if the promise of a quick recovery comes to fruition for all, especially for those hardest hit. The message from the White House is “shots in arms and money in pockets.” How could any sane person argue with that? Sadly, not a single Republican voted for the Plan.
One of the goals of the Plan is to deal with childhood poverty in America. In 2019, 14.4% of all children under the age of 18 were living below the official poverty measure. The Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University predicts the Plan could cut child poverty by more than half.
The Plan provides for eligible adults and children to receive $1,400 checks, SNAP benefits will be increased through the end of 2021, Child Tax Credits will be increased and paid monthly, Earned Income Tax Credit will be expanded, and expanded unemployment insurance will continue until September, all going a long way toward ending poverty. There is so much more in the Plan that will help the neediest Americans, such as rental assistance, child care funding, and getting schools opened so parents can go back to work.
Republicans speak from both sides of their mouth, saying they want to help Americans but arguing the American Rescue Plan is a bloated Democratic wish-list which will drive up inflation. How can paying back rent, credit card bills, and for child care increase inflation? The goal is to make people whole again. If you don’t need the $1,400 check, give it to charity. In fact, if you object to the American Rescue Plan, send the check back to the government.
I’m almost certain Republicans do not want to be branded as being against lifting people out of poverty and hunger. That issue should not be a partisan issue. Neither should the issue of getting vaccinated. Sadly, 49% of Republican men are refusing to get vaccinated and 47% of the people who supported the former president have also declined to be vaccinated. Their actions will result in a failure to achieve herd immunity and will prolong the pandemic indefinitely. They will be responsible for us having to continue to wear masks and socially distance for much longer than we should have to. Getting vaccinated is the socially responsible thing to do and I would argue that these Republican actions belie their supposed humanitarianism.
The other evening I was watching a documentary on Netflix about Audrey Hepburn, called “Audrey.” I was reminded of her efforts as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, trying to eradicate famine all over the world, especially trying to stem the tragedy of childhood famine. Her words resonated back then and succeeded in raising huge sums of money to feed the hungry.
For Audrey, humanitarianism meant human welfare. “I’m responding to human suffering and that is what politics should be,” she said. “I think perhaps, with time, instead of there being a politicalization of humanitarian aid, there’ll be a humanization of politics. I dream of the day that it will be all one.” Audrey was cut down by cancer before she could realize her dream, a dream that in this era of political division now seems like a pipedream.
President Biden’s successful passage of the American Rescue Plan could be one small step toward that dream. In fact, in a very short time Biden has been able to fulfill several of his campaign promises. His top priority was to defeat the coronavirus and recover the economy and I hope we are well on our way toward fulfilling that promise.
A brief review of some of his other campaign promises suggests that Biden is a man true to his word. He promised to nominate a woman for vice president and now Kamala Harris is standing with him in that capacity. He promised to surround himself with advisors and cabinet members that more closely reflects the diversity of America. So far he is succeeding. For example, the first Native American, Deb Haaland, became Interior Secretary; Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay cabinet member filling the post of Transportation Secretary; Janet Yellen became the first woman appointed as Treasury Secretary; and Gen. Lloyd Austin became the first African American Defense Secretary.[ii]
Biden also promised to administer 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days. Due to the efforts of thousands of people, he is on track to exceed that promise.
Listening to Biden’s first prime-time address to the American people was a refreshing change from the last four years of self-serving speeches by the former guy. Like Franklin Roosevelt’s first fireside chat in 1933, where Americans gathered around their radios to hear the reassuring words of their president during the Depression, Biden offered hope and promised to tell the truth; at the same time he realistically acknowledged there may be setbacks along the way.
Honesty and a sense of humanitarianism from our president have helped bolster my sense of optimism on this sunny Spring-like day. Now, if the last foot of snow would hurry up and melt, I’d be a happy camper.
[i] This op ed piece was written on March 18. The Covid numbers in New Hampshire had started to decrease, but just after I wrote this piece, the numbers suddenly began to rise. The daily cases of infections went up, as well as the daily deaths. That is why it is so important to remain vigilant, get vaccinated, and continue wearing masks and socially distancing. [ii] I want to acknowledge that there has been an outcry by Asian American Pacific Islander Senators Tammy Duckworth (D- Illinois) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) about the lack of any AAPI nominees for Cabinet-level positions. They had issued an ultimatum indicating they would reject any future non-diverse nominees that came before the Senate. In response, the Biden administration promised to add a senior-level AAPI liaison, “who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.” This promise resulted in the lifting of the ultimatum. In light of the rise in violence against the AAPI community over the past year, culminating in the horrific mass murders in the Atlanta area, everyone must come together to protect, respect and lift up the AAPI community. Biden did the right thing by immediately addressing the concerns raised by Duckworth and Hirono. Again, another promising sign.