To win in November, Joe Biden needs to distill both his agenda and critiques of Trump into a coherent and historically informed message. The institutional and rhetorical disorder in the Trump Campaign, specifically the firing of his campaign manager Brad Parscale and apparent reluctance to deploy his ‘Keep America Great’ tagline, means that now is the perfect time for Biden to unveil what should be his own slogan: ‘A Dignified Deal for America’.
The onset of the Coronavirus saw Biden transform his candidacy from the Democratic Party moderate who effectively traded off of promising to restore the moral decency of the Obama Administration to a reformist figure in the mold of FDR who wanted to fix a broken economic system. The Biden Campaign should take care to preserve both potentially contradictory messages as they go into the General Election. The slogan of A Dignified Deal for America allows the Vice President to do just this.
Though many other politicians, like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, have used the idea of the ‘dignity of work’ in their speeches and campaigning, Biden has done so for over a decade. In his speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention, Biden articulated what the dignity of work meant to him: “whether you can look your children in the eye and say: We’re going to be ok”.
It is in this explanation that the strength of the idea lies. Specifically, the fact that dignity of work does not mean, as some Republicans have sought to claim for their own purposes, that being employed provides, in and of itself, a dignity that makes one superior to someone who is unemployed.
Instead, it shows that work is only dignified if it enables the employed individual to look after those who depend upon them and have the material sustenance to maintain a strong standard of living.
Shortly after announcing that he was running for President, an article in New York Magazine suggested that Biden should retire the phrase. The reasoning behind this logic was the argument that the polices Biden supported as a Senator and in the Obama Administration failed to give those who were employed the dignity they deserved.
However, rather than invalidating the meaning of the phrase itself, this is an argument that Biden did not live up to his rhetoric. The policies the Vice President has now pledged to support, from four hundred billion dollars for additional federal purchases of products made by American workers to a fifteen dollar federal minimum wage, will have the effect of creating employment for American workers and providing them with the dignity of a decent lifestyle by increasing their take-home pay.
In addition, the slogan, crucially, allows Biden to maintain his moralistic message against President Trump. Biden’s first campaign advert when he announced his candidacy was one that highlighted President Trump’s inadequate response to Charlottesville.
With this slogan, his moral condemnation could be directed at a similar inadequacy in the President’s response to the devastating economic effects of the pandemic. For instance, the willingness of the Whitehouse and Senate Republicans to propose a dramatic cut to unemployment benefits whilst the pandemic still rages.
This unsympathetic economic conservatism, seemingly unalloyed by Trump’s economic nationalist posture from 2016 could be contrasted effectively with the Biden Campaign’s New Deal-esque investment plans. This would allow the Vice President to reprise the strategy he deployed so effectively against Governor Romney in 2012: presenting the Republican nominee as a callous businessman who values profit over the people.
The New Deal resonance would be the final advantage of such a slogan. One of the strategic missed opportunities of the Sanders Campaign, as argued by the historian Harvey Kaye, was to not whole-heartedly embrace the legacy of the New Deal and present his candidacy as one that has uniquely American historical roots. Like Harry Truman’s rearticulating of the New Deal as the Fair Deal, Vice President Biden should remind the American public that his candidacy harkens back to a tradition that seeks to overcome a crisis in a way that restores dignity to America and all her citizens.