Memo To: Joseph Biden, President of the United States; Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Charles Schumer, Majority Leader of the United States Senate
Subject: Optimism Dwindles, But Hope Remains Strong
I am grateful that the three of you are holding the reins of American leadership during this critical and contentious time. When you came into office just over a year ago, you returned a sense of honesty, vision, courage and integrity to our governmental leadership. I and millions of others were filled with great hope for the future of our nation, and we were optimistic about a 2022 transformation of the country’s commitment to social, economic and climate issues. The optimism has faded in recent months, but hope still shines.
My personal sense of hope comes from decades of working in and around the world of politics and social programs. My vocational and work focus (to paraphrase Hubert Humphrey’s words in 1978) was to serve and advocate for people in the dawn of life, the children; the dusk of life, the elderly; and the shadow of life, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable and the disabled.
For a decade I was a Democrat responsible for liberal programs in states with conservative legislatures. It wasn’t always easy, but we usually found a way to come together and move the state forward.
When my work world changed from government to business, my vocational passion remained the same: as an advocate on behalf of those in the dawn, dusk and shadow of life. This advocacy part of my life remained steady when I retired from paid work.
This period of retirement has been an uneven journey. Throughout the first two decades of the 21st century my spirits flagged, rose, and flagged again. Then, when the three of you took office with majorities in the House and Senate my optimism soared and my hope blossomed. Finally, I thought, after nearly five decades of advocating for economic and social justice causes; fighting for a scientifically valid response to combat a fast-approaching climate disaster; and working for what I believed was the common good, there was positive movement on the horizon.
The goals articulated by the three of you were clear: make major investments in our social, environmental and physical infrastructures. You called for America to lead the world in transitioning to a cleaner and more sustainable environment; bolstering our physical infrastructure; investing in guaranteed access to quality education from preschool through community college; supporting families with financial, nutrition, healthcare, and family leave programs; and renewing the poverty-busting child tax credit.
To make the agenda politically salable you pledged that the nation’s debt would not be increased.
I and other Democrats rejoiced. Finally, the nation’s leaders were introducing a clear, comprehensive and compassionate plan to prepare America’s physical and human resources for the challenges of the 21st century.
Then the bickering started around the edges: “Not Big Enough” shouted the left wing of the Democratic Party. “Too Big” Republicans chanted in unison. “Unfair” squawked the billionaires and corporate executives. And, with media and political attention focused on the self-interested bickerers instead of on the programs, our balloon of optimism about 2022 began deflating. The excitement dimmed and frustration grew as the goal changed from transforming America to cutting a deal.
So, my optimism about seeing immediate progress is dimmed. But, as incongruous as it may seem, my hope for the America my great grandchildren will inherit remains strong. Why? Because I believe that the each of you understands the human and political costs of failing to meet the desperate needs of millions of Americans. You know that if we fail, our party’s days of leadership in the House and Senate will be threatened, and the Biden presidency could be crippled. Hope will join optimism in political exile. I don’t think you will permit this to happen without a titanic fight.
I believe in the American people, and I believe that a majority of them support your proposals. But the people need to hear straight talk––no hedging, no holding back, just truth and consequences. I urge you three to go to the people, mobilize them and get them to the polls in November. Move the focus of the fury they have aimed at you to where it rightly belongs: on the Republican obstructionists. With a vitalized citizen response, we can keep our leadership in place after the midterms, and perhaps have a majority that is able to pass the whole loaf instead of a few slices. That is my hope rather than my optimism speaking!
With respect and warm regards, Bill Jamieson
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.