It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day
In the iconic 1965 “Feeling Good” song, legendary singer Nina Simon captures the hope for a new dawn, and a new day represented by Joe Biden’s narrow victory. Today, listen to the song and consider the future of our nation.
Today, there is a new America, with Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona delivering Biden a win. This victory demonstrates that through a blend of pragmatism and boldness, a 77-year-old career politician was able to assemble a wide, diverse coalition that defeated an incumbent president. In doing so, this election drove an historic turnout during a pandemic. Biden also garnered the most votes of any candidate in American history and won the popular vote by a convincing margin.
Given the narrowness of the electoral college win, Biden will govern from the center — his political sweet spot, which has the added benefit of reflecting the will of a highly-divided American electorate that just returned a majority of Republicans to the Senate.
Beginning today, the Biden transition coupled with the new administration’s first 100 days will set the tone and the tempo of his presidency. Here are four suggestions for the president-elect and his transition team as they try to capture this momentum for the common good of the entire nation.
Lead like Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Biden campaign’s stop at Warm Springs, Ga., in the last week of the campaign was a symbolic nod to one of America’s greatest leaders. With courage, discipline and vision, FDR led a struggling nation through the depths of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II. Roosevelt’s presidency offers two lessons. FDR charted an ambitious and transformational plan in his first 100 days. Joe Biden now faces a once in a century pandemic plus an economic collapse. The president-elect should go bold with a first 100 day plan to include a national COVID-19 response plus serious health care, economic recovery, and climate change policies.
FDR also spoke to the country with honesty, specificity, and directness through 30 fireside chats over 11 years. FDR addressed the nation a few times a year, offering both the opportunities and challenges facing Americans. He did not over communicate and he chose substance over sound bites. Biden is the empathetic leader, the father figure the nation now needs. The country needs an emotional break from the unending Trump reality show. Biden can be the anti-Trump by not overly communicating with hourly tweets.
Model Ronald Reagan’s transition team
Donald Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, jumped the gun in 2016 and conducted foreign policy prematurely. Joe Biden can avoid the Flynn debacle and learn from Ronald Regan’s transition team which was well prepared, taking advantage of a landslide election victory and also of the readiness of experienced Washington hands to join his new administration after only a four-year GOP hiatus.
Most of the world will welcome Joe Biden’s competence, vision, and faith in alliances. Still, the Logan Act allows for only one president at a time, and Donald Trump remains the president until noon on Jan. 20, 2021.
From a foreign policy perspective, the Biden administration can be ready on day one by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; re-validating the United Nations and NATO; re-affirming values-based alliances to confront climate change, COVID-19, and continuing threats from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.
Ronald Reagan built the modern model for effective transitions; it is Biden’s for the taking.
Prepare for unseen threats
2021 will not be 2017. Climate effects are worse and will continue to worsen. China and Russia are emboldened competitors. Technology is changing geo-politics by both empowering authoritarian states and emboldening non-state actors. The pandemic will still be raging when Biden assumes office in a 11weeks. But these may not be the president-elect’s biggest challenge.
Just as Bush had to confront the Sept. 11 attacks, Obama the Arab Spring, and Trump the COVID-19 pandemic, President-elect Biden will similarly face black swan events that will challenge its administration’s core capabilities. It is impossible to know what the Biden administration will face — it could be widespread domestic terrorism and conflict, accelerated and localized climate effects, financial collapse, or any number of other Hollywood scripts.
To prepare, the new administration will be required to deploy talent, technology, and funding to emergent threats at a speed which will break bureaucracies and challenge conventional-think. The oldest president ever elected will be required to lead his team like a start-up CEO by being agile, dynamic, results-oriented.
Don’t spike the football
Biden does not lead with hubris. But some in his coalition risk spiking the football by pushing an aggressive agenda beyond the pragmatic centrism of the Americans who voted for the president-elect.
The day after a grueling election, Americans are still suffering from the pandemic, a collapsed economy, racial injustice, and extreme political polarization. Biden won the election because he built a broad and inclusive tent — from Bernie progressives to the Republican establishment and from older rural working-class whites in battleground states to urban professional Gen Z first-time voters in blue states.
In his closing campaign message, Joe Biden promised to heal our nation’s wounds. That, above all, is his mandate today.
Nina Simone got it right with her soulful optimism. It is, indeed, a new dawn and a new day in America, and most of us are feeling good.
R. David Harden is managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, where he oversaw U.S. assistance to all global crises. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Harden.
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