A 21st century New Deal


Will Joe Biden be the new FDR? Is he up for a big, bold 21st century New Deal to help confront a crisis that, as he has said, “eclipses what FDR faced?”

After all, we face not just economic devastation, but a health crisis, a racial reckoning, a climate emergency and assaults on our democracy itself.

We are grandsons of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his vice president, Henry Wallace, who led the creation of the New Deal, launched in 1933. They recognized the inherent cruelty of a passive, hands-off federal government, and devised proactive governmental solutions to help lift everyday Americans out of the Great Depression — to serve the forgotten many rather than the wealthy few. 

The result: Established public jobs programs, which built essential infrastructure; unemployment insurance; Social Security; a minimum wage; and reined in the abuses of Wall Street and huge corporations.

We and other New Deal cabinet descendants have written to former Vice President and presumptive nominee Joe Biden, urging him to go even bigger — to enact bold and dramatic reforms that guarantee Americans the jobs, the income, the health care, the social justice and the sustainable environment they need to live productive and healthy lives.

Baby steps won’t cut it. A return to prior “normalcy” won’t fix today’s unprecedented mess. A cautious incremental reformer would be doomed to failure and should dread becoming president now.

Today, we are heartened that Biden appears to agree. The new report conceived by his six policy task forces, which he established with former opponent and progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), not only represents a broad swath of policy viewpoints, it also charts a bold course unlike any previous administration.

The most enormous, cross-cutting example: calling for inclusive jobs programs that were successfully implemented through the New Deal, building a “clean energy revolution” including 500 million solar panels, millions of jobs building wind turbines in America and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and a 100 percent clean energy “moonshot.”

The jobs program extends to other 21st century jobs like building universal broadband internet, high speed rail and COVID-related jobs, like testing and contact tracing. Bold tax reform, for fairness and equity. Free public college for the 80 percent of families who can’t afford it. Universal and affordable health care, including a public option. Criminal penalties for reckless bank executives and corporate polluters who illegally endanger Americans’ economic security or health. Major reforms of criminal justice and immigration.

Biden is strengthening his commitment, rolling out detailed plans in each of the six policy areas, starting with a comprehensive plan on climate change

Transformative programs are already surfacing in Congress. A new Senate bill, the Jobs for Economic Recovery Act, would create a new — and permanent — federal program that would offer temporary jobs and invaluable experience to unemployed and underemployed workers until they are ready to move into the regular economy. The House-passed HEROES Act also makes great strides toward a 21st century New Deal.

The sad truth of our nation’s recent history is this: the rich have gotten richer, a majority of Americans have fallen behind and corporations have been let loose to despoil our planet and endanger our children’s and grandchildren’s future — all compounded now by unprecedented economic, health and social turmoil.

Our grandparents met their moment of crisis with “bold, persistent experimentation.” It is time once more to embrace the New Deal’s core principles of economic security, social justice, a sustainable environment and a level playing field for businesses — big and small.

The American people deserve a government that is unquestionably on their side. Not for the corporations and elites, and not torn apart along lines of race, religion, nationality, gender or class. A government for all the people.

In these dark and uncertain times, if a Biden administration can lift up this vision, heal our wounds and build a society that shares prosperity and justice fairly, he will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. Our grandfathers would gratefully pass the New Deal mantle on to him.

James Roosevelt, Jr., is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. He is currently a member of the Democratic National Committee from Massachusetts. Henry Scott Wallace is grandson of FDR’s third-term Vice President, Henry A. Wallace. Both are lawyers, and Wallace was the Democratic nominee for Congress in PA-01 in 2018. Wallace is also the co-founder of a PAC called Kennedy Democrats, devoted to electing progressive Democrats in the Pennsylvania state legislature.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden 2020 campaign climate plan economic crisis Federal jobs program Great Depression Joe Biden New Deal Recession Tax reform Unemployment

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