Presidential leadership | U Daily

The Biden Institute at the University of Delaware hosted a discussion with presidential historians on December 7 at Mitchell Hall.  On stage, left to right, were Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Valerie Biden Owens, who served as moderator.

The Biden Institute at the University of Delaware hosted a discussion with presidential historians on December 7 at Mitchell Hall. On stage, left to right, were Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Valerie Biden Owens, who served as moderator.

Photos by Evan Krape

Historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham discuss U.S. leaders during visit to UD

As two of the world’s foremost presidential historians spoke with the president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, at the president’s alma mater in the president’s home state with the president’s name stamped on a background behind them, it was impossible to avoid the obvious questions.

During a presidential leadership discussion on Tuesday, December 7, hosted by the Biden Institute at Mitchell Hall, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham summoned the ghosts of their top-ranked commanders-in-chief to share their advice for the brother of ‘Owens, President Joe Biden, as he fights to pass monumental laws in a divided country.

Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, the current canon historian of the Washington National Cathedral and a regular contributor to cable television news programs, chose a slightly surprising name: former President George HW Bush, a single term president but “a prime example of someone who did all he could, sometimes to his political detriment, just to do the right thing. Meacham wrote a biography of George HW Bush, titled Destiny and Power.

“He believed that a big part of being president kept bad things from happening. And sometimes the math is that you feel pain in the short term, because you think something is going right in the long term. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but Joe Biden is someone who I firmly believe understands that as well, ”said Meacham, who has been an informal advisor to Biden. “He sees the struggles of the moment not as what we have to deal with this afternoon, but we have a century here.”

Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were also mentioned as the best, while Donald Trump and James Buchanan were cited as the worst.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written books on several American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written books on several American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

Pulitzer winner and full-fledged television commentator Kearns Goodwin chose President Lyndon Johnson as the subject of one of his books, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.

“If you were Lyndon Johnson, you’d probably say, get Manchin and Sinema in the White House, and put them down there, and don’t let them go until they come to some sort of agreement.” , she said, referring to the two Democratic senators currently holding all the cards in Congress.

Kearns Goodwin also opened up about his connection to Johnson, who has gained most of the attention for fighting and winning passage of the Civil Rights Bill and pushing forward one of the most important agendas of history in no time.

Meacham prompted Kearns Goodwin to share the story of when Johnson invited her to a picnic. Johnson had a certain reputation, she said, so when he asked her, she got very worried. “I was constantly telling her about stable boyfriends, even when I don’t have one. He said he wanted to discuss our relationship. It wasn’t until he told her that she reminded him of his mother that she knew she had a platonic date.

While the laughs were plentiful, with the three of them chilling out throughout the night and sharing humorous anecdotes, the focus was on the future of a country on the brink of revolt less than a year ago. year and so divided that he couldn’t come together to fight a deadly virus.

Kearns Goodwin emphasized the ability of great leaders of the past to rally the American people to a common cause, as President Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression and World War II. She said even the best of presidents, even FDR, would find it difficult to bring the country together at this time. “I don’t know if we have that in us right now, even with the right leader, because everything is so fractured and because we have an individualized culture. Why haven’t we been able to treat COVID as a war on a common enemy for all of us? And yet it has become part of having masks or vaccines or social distancing. It has to do with culture and has to do with identity. A lot of things have come together to make it that much harder to be a leader. “

Meacham said that, in his mind, the United States was only 57 years old, with its true anniversary being on July 2, 1964, the day the Civil Rights Bill was signed and everyone was able to vote. As such, he is fragile, he said.

Historian Jon Meacham has written books on several US presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and George HW Bush.

Historian Jon Meacham has written books on several US presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and George HW Bush.

Fortunately, the Founding Fathers understood this and made the Constitution difficult to navigate, Meacham said.

“The reason it’s so hard to do anything in this country is because they thought most of what we would like to do would be wrong. That is why you could hardly understand the Constitution. They made a bet against human nature and the idea was that our appetite, our ambition, our greed, our thirst for power, place or position, advantage or privilege, were eternal forces, ”said Meacham. “And so the idea that we would be plagued by those appetites, which happened in 2016 – it happened to too many people in 2020 – is hardly surprising. Nativism, xenobia, the racism, extremism, anti-intellectualism, unreason … these are always ebbs and flows. And the task of our time is to make them ebb a little more than the ebb. “

Owens, chairman of the event’s sponsor, the Biden Institute, asked, “How do you explain that in the space of four years we went from Trump to Biden?”

“Progress,” Meacham said, to laughter and applause.

And, despite the odds, still more progress is possible, Meacham told a student who asked him what advice they would give to future leaders.

“You see, it’s in your hands, which is both terrifying and exciting,” Meacham said. “President Biden says we have made the decision to be dysfunctional. A meteor didn’t hit us and suddenly we were all polarized. A group of people who are made in the likeness and image of God, many of whom were born in the United States of America, have decided that they would prefer to support a particular side no matter what. And having decided it, you can indecise it.


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Kevin E. Boling