Biden hints at a 2020 candidacy at campus event

Biden Meacham Feb 26
Mitchell Patterson /THE REVIEW
Joe Biden strongly hinted at a 2020 presidential run during his talk with historian Jon Meacham.

BY Associate News Editor

It is by now a common, and perhaps old, sight to witness former Vice President Joe Biden stroll onto campus to take eight or nine selfies with a mob of students. But with numerous other Democrats announcing their candidacies for president in 2020, each visit from the university alumnus and former U.S. Senator brings news potential meaning and importance as he continues to straddle the line of, “Will he, won’t he?”

Biden, 76, held a lecture with renowned historian Jon Meacham, 49, in Clayton Hall on Tuesday. Although the subject of their talk was Meacham’s latest book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” both Meacham and the audience repeatedly pestered Biden to give a definitive yes or no answer on whether he would throw his hat into the 2020 ring.

At one point, a woman in the audience shouted out, “Oh, god, just say yes!”

Biden admitted that he was in the final stages of consulting with his family and analysts to decide whether a run for the White House would be viable.

“No man or woman has the right to run for high public office without it being a family decision,” Biden said. “From being pushed, prodded by my son, Hunter, and my wife, Jill, and my daughter, we just had a family meeting with all the grandkids, too. There’s a consensus that, they want — they, [being] the most important people in my life — want me to run.”

He told the audience not to be surprised if he did announce his candidacy soon.

“I can die a happy man having never having lived in the White House,” Biden said. “But what I don’t want to do is take people’s time, effort and commitment without there being a clear shot that I could be the nominee.”

Biden was concerned that certain hurdles, specifically the question of funding, needed to be overcome before a campaign could be possible. Biden pledged to the audience that he would not accept support from a PAC or a super PAC.

“Now, I don’t want this to be a fool’s errand,” Biden said. “I want to make sure if we do this, we’re getting very close to getting to a decision, that I am fully prepared to do it.”

The discussion took the form of a question-and-answer session between Biden and Meacham, using “The Soul of America” as a framework to discuss the current state of the nation.

Meacham has written several New York Times bestselling presidential biographies, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.” He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Book Review, contributing editor for TIME Magazine and the former executive editor for Random House publishing company.

“The Soul of America” attempts to offer hope for the country’s future by analyzing particularly divisive and potentially dangerous instances of America’s past which were overcome by what Abraham Lincoln called “the angels of our better nature.”

“My argument is not, ‘Things have been bad in the past, so therefore relax, it’s all going to work out,’” Meacham said. “Quite the opposite. It’s that without a sense of proportion, we can become overwhelmed by the problems of today. But if we realize that we’ve come through, in this journey to make a more perfect union, storm and strife, and that’s far more the rule and not the exception, then that history gives us an orienting capacity.”

Meacham said he was prompted to write the book after the white-supremacist rallies of August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. “The Soul of America” draws comparisons between today’s political zeitgeist and historical moments that put similar amounts of stress on America’s governmental and cultural institutions, which, in turn, give rise to class-resentment, scapegoating and demagoguery.

“To my mind, the soul of the country is not all good or all bad,” Meacham said. “But the essence of who we are, the angels of our better nature, is in constant struggle with, say, the [Klu Klux] Klan, our worst instincts.”

A central theme Biden and Meacham returned to was the question of how historical analyses provide answers to some of today’s seemingly intractable political conundrums.

“A republic is only as good as the sum of its parts,” Meacham said. “History has a particular utility, not to make us all agree, but to give us all a common vernacular to show us what our country could be.”

In an anecdotal story, Meacham explained how he tried to understand a president’s moral fiber by asking them what they wanted posterity to remember when looking at their presidential oil portrait.

“I don’t have an oil portrait anywhere,” Biden said.

“It’s early yet, sir,” Meacham said in reply.

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