What you see with Joe Biden is what you get

Author Jon Meacham’s most important insights about U.S. politics and the presidency are intertwined with the current officeholder

Michael TaubeJon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian. He’s been an executive editor/vice-president at Random House, has worked for the Chattanooga Times, Time and Newsweek, and written for the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post and other publications.

Several of Meacham’s books, including American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (2009), Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012) and Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (2015), are among the finest presidential biographies ever crafted.

His eulogies for former president George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush were nothing short of magnificent, too.

Yet, Meacham’s most important insights about U.S. politics and the presidency are intertwined with the current officeholder, Joe Biden.

Some readers may remember Meacham’s speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. He endorsed Biden and said, “history, which will surely be our judge, can also be our guide. From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, we’re at our best when we build bridges, not walls.”

The New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2020, that the historian had “been helping to craft president-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s speeches, according to multiple sources involved, including helping to write the acceptance speech that Mr. Biden delivered Saturday night from Wilmington, Del.”

His role in “Mr. Biden’s biggest addresses,” Annie Karni and John Koblin wrote, “has shades of the presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy.”

Meacham never acknowledged his role publicly. He didn’t join the Biden White House like Schlesinger did with Kennedy. Yet the lengthy period of radio silence, combined with NBC and MSNBC’s decision to drop him as a paid contributor, couldn’t be ignored.

Regardless of Meacham’s political endorsement, he provided some nuggets of information about Biden that warrant some additional analysis.

Meacham recently revealed details of a meeting between the president and a small group of historians in March. The session lasted more than two hours and opened the door to several discussions on domestic and foreign policy.

In a May 9 phone interview with The Guardian’s David Smith, Meacham described the president in the following fashion: “He’s like an upside-down iceberg. You see most of it and that’s not spin: there’s just not a lot of mystery to Joe Biden. The last four or five minutes of his press conference in the East Room [on 25 March] when he talked about democracy and autocracy, that was pretty much it.”

That’s interesting enough but more was unveiled.

“I suspect 90 per cent of what I’ve heard Joe Biden say in private for years, he says in public, and the other 10 per cent, it’s not like there’s some secret dark side of Biden,” Meacham said. “I’m puzzled by it, honestly. I think part of it is being 78, thinking that everything was done – he had no expectation [of becoming president] in 2017. So I think people should take him at his word. My experience with him – and we are friends – is that he’s very straightforward. There’s not a lot of machiavellian behind-the-scenes stuff going on. That might not have been true when he was 40, but he’s now almost 80 and it is true.”

In other words, what you see with Biden is exactly what you get.

He may have certain personality traits we’ve come to expect with long-standing or career politicians. He will need to constantly build bridges with the overwhelming number of young, left-leaning radicals in his party to get legislation passed. But in Meacham’s view, there’s no alternative visage, hidden agenda or mysterious point of view that’s lurking in this president’s exterior.

Here’s an equally fascinating assessment of the Biden presidency:

“He is not repeating the mistake that was made in the Obama years of seeking Republican buy-in because they can’t deliver; in foreign policy terms, he doesn’t really have a partner for peace,” Meacham noted to Smith. “He’s basically decided he’s got to get everything done that he can because he genuinely believes that it’s an emergency situation and he does it in a temperamental way that is more congenial than divisive.”

The Republicans have therefore been forced “into an even smaller corner” of the American political discourse where they discuss issues like Dr. Seuss. “The Republicans are in this perpetual bar fight, so they’re grabbing for anything they can. I don’t think it’s a durable governing strategy.”

Meacham’s analysis could be dispelled in next year’s midterm elections. And if the Republicans take back the White House in 2024, it would prove Biden’s magic formula was only successful in the short term.

This doesn’t mean the intriguing insights from the man who’s been labelled as “Biden’s historical muse” should be ignored. Not in the slightest.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.


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