This election will be about COVID-19. There are other crucial issues on the ballot, but COVID-19 tops the list.
None of us have escaped its reach, either on our health, the impact on the economy, our children’s education, our small businesses, our inability to safely hug our loved ones. Where a voter stands on the federal management or mismanagement of COVID-19 is most likely the single biggest factor in how they are voting in the presidential race.
Joe Biden has been clear about the dangers of the pandemic, beginning with an op-ed article he wrote for USA Today on January 27. He has not wavered in his analysis of the challenges COVID-19 poses to the country. But his closing argument is not one of fear but of unity, that we can meet the challenges together.
And it is reminiscent of another Democratic presidential candidate who ran during another national crisis.
That Democrat was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The year was 1932, and it was his first presidential race. The crisis was the Great Depression. Then governor of New York, FDR’s opponent was the Republican incumbent, President Herbert Hoover. Not unlike the GOP today, Hoover did not believe in an organized, federal response, and so the crisis deepened.
In his speeches and his promise of a “New Deal,” Roosevelt told a frightened and weary nation that better days were ahead:
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a New Deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in the crusade to restore America to its own people.”
The parallels are almost eerie, including the personal parallels between Roosevelt and Biden: both experienced, centrist politicians; both believers in good government; both survivors of family tragedies.
On one level, today’s crisis is dwarfed by the Great Depression, when 25 percent of the workforce was unemployed, with no social safety net; those policies would come later, under Roosevelt. But on another level, the challenges this year might be tougher than in 1932. For one, our economic collapse is entwined with a global pandemic; and, two, no one doubted that Hoover would leave if defeated.
Listening to Biden gives me a feeling that I am sure was familiar to Americans who listened to FDR on the radio or watched him in newsreels. That feeling is hope.
And so, just as it was in 1932, the message that “help is on the way” might power Democrats to a historic landslide.
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One fine body…