The theatrics of the Biden administration have begun, as the president set about signing executive orders on his first day in office in front of a newly placed bust of Latino labor activist and socialist Cesar Chavez, which has replaced a bust of former British Prime Minister and World War II hero Winston Churchill.
Biden’s administration employs the granddaughter of the labor rights organizer, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, as the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations at the White House. She and many other progressive activists were thrilled at the change.
I am smiling ear to ear with a full heart! #organizerswin #SiSePuede @UFWupdates #Unionproud
“Behind the Resolute desk is a bust of Cesar Chavez. The office also includes busts of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and sculpture by Allan Houser of the Chiricahua Apache” pic.twitter.com/3FlXZpoqZf
— Marisol Garcia (@marisolgarciaaz) January 20, 2021
But Chavez, no doubt meant to appeal to both unions and Latinos, is a controversial figure to say the least. The placement of his bust behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office also says a great deal about other ideologies and potential policy pushes — many of them unsavory — that a Biden administration might favor. The Daily Mail reports:
There is a new radical socialist in the White House, and Joe Biden also moved in yesterday.
A bust of firebrand Latino union leader Cesar Chavez now takes pride of place behind the President’s chair in the Oval Office, under a new decor regime that includes numerous civil rights leaders at the expense of a bust Winston Churchill.
[Chavez was] idolized as a charismatic ‘folk saint’ union leader who fought for greater rights and more pay for thousands of Latino farm workers during decades of strikes in California in the Sixties and Seventies.
His slogan ‘Si Se Puede’ translates as ‘Yes We Can’, later used by Barack Obama to successfully win the White House decades alter.
But for his critics, Chavez is a socialist firebrand who entranced followers with his ‘personality cult’ and then ruled his union with an iron fist, periodically executing brutal purges of his enemies. He was also repeatedly accused of being a communist but went as far as suing those behind the accusations and was monitored by the FBI throughout his activities.
And many Mexican-Americans disapprove of his opposition to illegal immigration, Chavez did not want illegal immigrants working on farms in America because they were strike breakers who allowed the land owners to undercut his unions.
According to CNN columnist Ruben Navarrette: ‘When he pulled workers out of the field during a strike, the last thing he wanted was to see a crew of illegal immigrant workers take away his leverage. According to many historical accounts, Chavez ordered union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service and report illegal immigrants who were working in the fields so that they could be deported. Some UFW officials were also known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.’
Donald Trump made gains with both the Latino community and the unions, so Biden’s attempt to appeal to those groups is strategically smart. But the new president’s recent moves on immigration reform, in which he has indicated he may offer a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people, and his EO indicating he would revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, killing thousands of union jobs, make the prominent display of Chavez confusing to say the least.
A source says TC [Energy] and unions tried to persuade the Biden team by explaining Keystone’s benefits to progressives, including 10,000 American union construction jobs; steel pipe made in the U.S.;a $10 million Green Job Training Fund; $500 million for indigenous suppliers and jobs; and 100% renewable power to operate the pipeline.
No luck, and so TC announced layoffs on Wednesday.
There’s also the matter of the U.S.’ old and great alliance with the U.K. Many British tabloids viewed the removal of the Churchill bust as a snub (although, to their credit, British government officials were more circumspect).
British tabloids did not hesitate to read between the supposed lines.
“CHURCHILL SNUB,” read a headline in the Sun, a right-wing tabloid that acts as a dogged defender of all things English.
“Fury as Joe Biden REMOVES bust of Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill from the Oval Office,” wrote the conservative Daily Mail, while the left-wing tabloid the Mirror reported that the bust was “nowhere in sight.”
There’s no doubt the Biden administration was making a strong statement with the removal of the Churchill bust in favor of the Chavez bust. But the statement is muddled and confusing. Let’s hope further messages from the Biden administration make more sense.