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My Highlights from Joseph Biden’s First Inaugural Address

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I was impressed by Joseph Biden’s First Inaugural Address as President of the United States. Let me share what to me were some of the highlights:First, I am moved by the strength of our Constitution and the victory of Democracy over attempts to overturn an election on spurious grounds. Joe Biden described this in several ways:… democracy is precious.Democracy is fragile.And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.…You know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength of our nation.…Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.And

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My Highlights from Joseph Biden's First Inaugural Address

I was impressed by Joseph Biden’s First Inaugural Address as President of the United States. Let me share what to me were some of the highlights:

First, I am moved by the strength of our Constitution and the victory of Democracy over attempts to overturn an election on spurious grounds. Joe Biden described this in several ways:

… democracy is precious.

Democracy is fragile.

And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.

You know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength of our nation.

Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.

And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground.

That did not happen.

Second, I think it is both consequential and absolutely right that he listed nativism and racism as twin evils. I have no doubt that racism fuels a lot of nativism, but nativism—looking at those not born in the US as somehow a lesser type of human being—would be a great evil even if it weren’t fueled by racism. (See my post “It Isn't OK to Be Anti-Immigrant.”) Here is how Joseph Biden addressed racism and nativism:

A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.

Third, Joe Biden addressed our national dysfunction of “othering” those whose political views are different from ours—which includes “othering” those who “other,” thereby taking on their bad habits. (On othering, see “Us and Them.”) Joe Biden said this on how to view others as not so “other”:

We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.

We can treat each other with dignity and respect.

Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.

Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war.

I write about “politicism” here.

Fourth, Joe Biden clearly distinguished between ordinary partisan differences and actions that are beyond the pale. (A) Attempts at violent overthrow of the Constitution of the United States are beyond the pale. But the right to peaceful dissent is at the heart of what it means to be a democracy:

To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart.

And if you still disagree, so be it.

That's democracy. That's America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation's greatest strength.

(B) Lying to the public for partisan advantage—or to make a few bucks in ways that are harmful to the nation—is beyond the pale. Here is Joe Biden on truth:


…we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?

I think I know.

Opportunity.

Security.

Liberty.

Dignity.

Respect.

Honor.

And, yes, the truth.

Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.

There is truth and there are lies.

Lies told for power and for profit.

There are many lies told for profit. See for example:

Some economists have a blanket antipathy to all regulations, but to me, regulations that force corporations to tell the truth to their customers seem like a good idea. After all, the standard welfare theorems assume an absence of asymmetric information. Forcing corporations to tell their customers the truth will usually get us closer to that benchmark.

Because I want to hold my own profession to a high standard, let me also add that lying with statistics in order to advance one’s scientific career (or what would then be a pseudo-scientific career) is also very bad. On that, see:

Joe Biden’s First Inaugural had a lot of repetition in it, but I think the repetition was warranted. We need to have the messages he kept repeating burned into our minds:

  1. We must cherish democracy and fight to preserve it from those who would put partisanship above democracy.

  2. We need racial justice—and it isn’t OK to be anti-immigrant.

  3. We must treat everyone as a full human being, even those with different political views—and even those who don’t themselves treat everyone as a full human being.

  4. Attempts to violently interfere with the workings of the Constitution of the United States are beyond the pale, and lying for partisan advantage is beyond the pale, but ordinary political disagreements are OK.

I’m sure Joe Biden will say things in the future that I disagree with. But in my book, his inaugural address was on solid ground.

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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