Biden, be bold, by Julianne Malveaux

12/17/2020, 6 p.m.
I expected neither sparks nor extreme surprises as President-elect Joe Biden began to announce his Cabinet. I did expect diversity, …
Julianne Malveaux

I expected neither sparks nor extreme surprises as President-elect Joe Biden began to announce his Cabinet. I did expect diversity, and we’ve seen it. But I didn’t expect the number of Obama-era retreads to be included in this Cabinet.

I can hardly contain my disap- pointment that Tom Vilsack, the man who fired Shirley Sherrod

for specious reasons, is being asked, again, to lead the U.S. De- partment of Agriculture. Many of us had hoped that Congress- woman Marcia Fudge, who served several years on the House Committee on Agriculture, would get this position. Instead, she has been nominated to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, still a cabinet position.

HUD, however, is one of those “black folk” or “people of color” positions. Robert C. Weaver, an African-American with a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, was the first HUD secretary in 1966. Noted attorney and civil rights activist Patricia Roberts Harris was the eighth in 1977. Some HUD secretaries were quite distinguished and qualified.

Others, like the present secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, much less so. In any case, Rep. Fudge will do an exemplary job no matter where she serves. But I am among those, including the legacy civil rights leaders, who are not excited about Mr. Vilsack returning as secretary of agriculture.

There is no one under 50 among the Biden nominees and there are few progressives. A glimmer of hope lies in the fact that the Council of Economic Advisers leans somewhat left and also is labor-centered, with the nominated chair, Dr. Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University labor economist. The others, Dr. Jared Bernstein and Dr. Heather Boushey, have past relationships with the Economic Policy Insti- tute, a worker-focused think tank in D.C. I serve on their board. It is also hopeful that Janet Yellen has been nominated as treasury secretary. She is worker-focused and the first woman to hold the post.

But in retreading Mr. Vilsack and former Secretary of State John Kerry as climate envoy, choosing international expert and former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to lead the Domestic Policy Council, and choosing other mainstream moderates,

President-elect Biden has thrown ice water on the hopes and dreams of the progressives who put their interests aside to unite around him.

Who will be the secretary of labor? U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders would like the position and is highly qualified for it. But so, too, is Thea M. Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, or Dr. Bill Spriggs, an African- American labor economist who was an assistant secretary under President Obama.

What about the attorney general? Of the four top picks, only one, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, is African-Amer- ican. There are opportunities for the Cabinet to be younger, more progressive and more diverse.

For a week or so, I’ve been encouraging patience, telling people we need to wait and see “the whole thing” of this Cabi- net. But I’m reminded — thank you, Rep. Jim Clyburn — of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” that Black people are always waiting, always being cautioned to be patient, always being told that it is not yet time for our concerns to be addressed. We have been cautioned on patience by both our friends and by those who would oppose us.

President-elect Joe Biden still has selections to make and he can make them younger and more diverse. I’d also encourage him to speak up about the racism that has increased in our streets with these “Proud Boys” defacing District of Columbia churches and roaming through our streets picking fights with people.

We need a strong voice to stand against this racism. It wouldn’t necessarily come from the mainstream, moderate and middling.

President-elect Biden would be well advised to speak firmly about this racism. Perhaps he should appoint a race czar, as NAACP President Derrick Johnson said, just as he has selected the climate czar in Mr. Kerry.

In any case, the middling and the moderate, those who enjoy the status quo, aren’t the ones to fix a mess that has been brewing for more than 400 years. President-elect Biden has never been especially bold, but this is a moment for boldness.

The writer is an economist, educator and author.