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RTC Chapter Leader Column

Transfer of power

New York Teacher
Tom Murphy

The transfer of presidential power is very much on our minds now. In the introduction to his classic, "The Making of the President 1960," Theodore White wrote: "The most awesome transfer of power in the world, the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal, all committed into the hands of one man … The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on Election Day ... Now the candidates must wait."

The 1960 peaceful transfer of power from Dwight D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy seems from our present vantage point as if it took place on another planet. The noise and blare of today would have been unseemly back then.

But however long the wait, the election's outcome has been worth it. For me and so many, the wait lasted four years, so there is a great temptation toward triumphalism. There is a desire to return in kind all the abuse, divisiveness, humiliation and destructiveness we have endured in the rhetoric of these four years.

But I'll take the lead from President-elect Joe Biden and offer a more dispassionate response. Let's do a red-light, green-light and amber-light analysis of what lies ahead for our nation.

What has the election red-lighted?

No more assaults on Medicare, including voucher proposals and block grants. No more privatization of Social Security. No more cuts to aid for the disabled. No more demonization of Medicaid programs that provide health care for the most needy and fiscal stability for nursing homes and assisted living institutions. No further court challenges to Obamacare, the health care law that was saved by the courage of the late Republican Sen. John McCain. No more belittlement of war heroes and prisoners of war. No more assaults on workers' rights, public education and the environment. No more support for strongmen foreign leaders. And no more criticism and alienation of allies who strive to uphold democratic ideals.

What has the election green-lighted?

Starting with executive orders, the president-elect says he will create a pandemic task force, which will advocate for policies based on science; rejoin the Paris climate agreement; and restore federal government workers' right to unionize. Biden policy priorities are expected to include the environment, immigration, health care, LGBTQ rights, trade, tax cuts, race relations, military spending and more. Add to that list his support for the labor-friendly Protecting the Right to Organize Act and reversal of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' anti-public education policies.

Biden's values are personified in his choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate. That choice is also a predictor of better things to come.

In Theodore White's introduction to "The Making of the President 1960," the phrase "the power to guide and the responsibility to heal" speaks poignantly to us. I look for Biden to express the best we as a nation have to offer.

The amber light cautions us against naïve expectations. Let's not set ourselves up for a fall. Politics is a process of becoming. But, with Biden's election, the way is set for green-light possibilities.

Let's appropriate White's final words on JFK: "He had always acted as if ... all things were possible. ... This was what he would have to cherish alone in the White House, on which an impatient world waited for miracles."

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