The Speech President Biden Needs to Give

Imagined by Rabbi Arthur Waskow* 

 [This “speech” could be seen as simply a wistful, wishful expression of concern. But I think something like it could become far more important. - If there is any issue that has brought concern across the political spectrum beyond elected officials in Congress or state legislatures, it is the dangers imposed by the climate crisis.

 [And in the speech is a proposal for dealing with our deadly national deadlock that goes to the people in a way that while unprecedented as a national strategy is well-grounded in the political culture of many states.

 [Even if the President were to think it wiser to refrain from that approach, making climate the central issue of all election campaigns would, I think, be both the most profound way of signaling how important is this "issue," and be probably the only way out of the doldrums that have settled on the Administration. – AW]


My fellow Americans –- and my fellow human beings, of whatever country, religion, world-view, or social standing. 

 I come to the Presidency as a person of faith. One of the most powerful and important teachings of the Bible gives me the strength and the obligation to face the harshest and newest truth of all: After the great Flood, God says: “I now establish My covenant with you [Noah] and your offspring to come, and with every living being that lives with you – every living thing on Earth.” 

 We humans and all the rest of life are part of that covenant with God, and we must act within the covenant before we, not God, bring a Flood of heat, of fire, of water that destroys our partners in the covenant –- and us ourselves.

 So what I need to say tonight addresses the future of us all, not only every human but every life-form on the beautiful globe we share. The more-than-human life-forms will not understand what I say, but their lives and our own will be changed by what we do.

For the first time,  we humans are responsible for whether there is a future for us all, for any of us. We need to act now – not next decade or next year. I bring you a way to do that, despite the deadly deadlock in our national government.

First let me say what is both very hard for me to say, and relatively easy. Hard because it describes a reality far beyond what the framers and reframers of our Constitution faced, and easy because I have said it again and again. What will be new, and harder to work out and pursue, is a way beyond the lethal deadlock we are experiencing.

 What I know is true, and have often said, has been hard for me to live with. It is the truth of the greatest danger we have ever faced. (The hard part has given me some empathy with people who can’t bear to believe it.) Here it is, once again:

 -- What we have called the climate crisis is no joke, no hoax.  When we talk of “global warming,’ we really mean “global scorching.” Fires, floods, famines – floods not only of water but of refugees, millions of desperate human beings searching somewhere for food that is nourishing, air that is breathable, clothing that comforts, housing that is honorable. 

Whole species migrating from habitats gone haywire, hungering for the same sufficiency. 


We need to end the burning of fossil fuels and emission of noxious gases by 2030, not 2050, to make sure that our cities, towns, and farms can survive, We know how to do it. Do we have the political will? I don’t know. We can only find out by trying.


When a democracy faces a new precipice, we must create new ways to leap across the abyss to a new kind of safety. So here is the deeply new part:

This next November, we will submit to the people of the United States a referendum on a bill to heal Earth and Humanity. My administration will start writing this bill now – today! 

On Election Day in November, every American more than 18 years of age will be encouraged to vote. There will be no party affiliations attached to this vote, no political job, no official honor or perfumery.

 Each voter will receive an indelible hand stamp that will mean no one votes twice. If local or state officials anywhere refuse to accept or count this vote, Federal or state or local public servants – teachers, for example – will be asked to serve the public.

What will our people vote on? My administration will fashion a new proposal that transforms the sources and outputs of energy in three great life-arrangements  that nourish us: our homes, our transportation, and our agriculture

These crucial arrangements house us, feed us, move us from place to place. All three require energy. It can come by extracting coal, oil, gas, uranium from Earth, or from the sun, the wind, the tides. 

As of now, all three systems gobble up the space, the habitat, that other species need. Yet the survival of those other species is necessary to our own survival. 

And these three crucial aspects of our lives together each is pouring heat-trapping gases into our atmosphere, scorching our common home. Choking Earth so that the life-giving interchange by plants and animals of Oxygen and CO2 is broken. Earth can’t breathe.  

 And many of our neighborhoods can't breathe. The marginalized  and demoralized communities include those dying early from despair in the form of opioids and those dying early in the form of guns and heroin -- both dying early from the dearth of decent well-paid jobs and from the contempt they feel as "forgotten Americans." Giving a hand up to one kind of neighborhood does not mean pushing another down.

 When in the 1930s the Rural Electrification Act came to farms that had no electricity, it came not to impose a Federal stranglehold but to offer a hand up to neighbors whose ladders had been stolen from them. Our bill will sow the seeds of neighborly co-ops, not briefcased bureaucrats, to grow an economy rooted in renewables. And it will include jobs, good jobs, for those who are displaced by this life-giving transformation. 

My administration will consult scientists of every discipline, historians, clergy and spiritual leaders of every persuasion, artists and writers and singers, teachers, miners and refiners, officials and would-be officials of every party, to create the bill that we will submit to the people. The whole people. 

And we will make the bill utterly transparent. It will be written in words that everyone can understand. It will be made available everywhere.

We will find out in November whether the American people are willing to grow a new society that loves Earth and invites Earth to love us, or is committed to the path of domination.

And we will do what the people decide. If they vote for the bill, we will make it happen. If they don’t. we will stop pressing on this issue. The people will write the law, as they do now in many states by referendum and initiative.

 You might say, “This is unconstitutional!” In 1787, most Americans who could vote in what could hardly be described as a democracy thought that the Articles of Confederation –- the Constitution of our new nation – was not working. It had a constitutional process for amending itself. The voters thought that would not work either. 

So notables gathered by their own will in Philadelphia and wrote a new – and “unconstitutional” -- Constitution. After a vociferous debate, the voters of that day voted. 

They adopted the new Constitution. And because most of the people knew it was necessary, it worked.

We are not only a new nation, renewed by our history. We face a new situation, utterly unknown to any past government or nation.

The Bible teaches:”I. the Holy One, have set before you life and death. Choose life, that you and your children may live!” And the Bible also teaches: "I. the Holy One, will send you Elijah the Prophet to turn  the hearts of parents to the children and the hearts of children to the parents, lest I come [not as a gentle Breath of Spirit or as the Wind of change, but as a Hurricane of destruction,] shattering all Earth."

It is we, each of us, who must choose to be Elijah.

 --- Joe Biden, President of the United States

(Imagined by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D.) 

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