Helping to shape the words of the president-elect: a presidential historian

Nov 10, 2020 Travel News

Helping to shape the words of the president-elect: a presidential historian

WASHINGTON – Jon Meacham, the presidential historian and biographer best known for studying the lives of past presidents, has taken on a relatively unique role in a contemporary political moment: helping to draft speeches for the next president.

Mr Meacham helped craft many of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s rhetorical moments, according to multiple sources, including helping to draft the acceptance speech Mr Biden gave on Saturday night from Wilmington, Del., His first remarks as president-elect.

In this remarks, Mr. Biden spoke of a mission “to rebuild the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation, the middle class, and to make America respected again in the world. entire ”and has been widely recognized for striking the right tone. to bring the country closer together. The language echoes the title of Mr. Meacham’s 2018 book, “America’s Soul: The Battle for Our Best Angels,” which has long served as a touchstone for Mr. Biden, who contacted Mr. Meacham in the past to discuss passages he liked.

“Saving history doesn’t mean you’re far from it,” Mr Meacham said over the summer, noting that he had been friends with Mr Biden for a long time.

Mr. Biden’s speech-writing process is led by Mike Donilon, his longtime advisor. But behind the scenes, Mr. Meacham played a bigger role than previously known, writing draft speeches and offering edits on others, including the one Mr. Biden gave in Gettysburg, Pa. , last month and his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.

“President-elect Joe Biden wrote the speech he gave to the American people on Saturday night, which outlined his vision to unite and heal the nation,” said TJ Ducklo, spokesperson for Mr. Biden.

“Given the importance of the speech, he consulted a number of important and diverse voices as part of his writing process, as he often does,” Ducklo added. A Biden official said Mr Meacham was involved in discussions about the themes of the victory speech.

Mr. Meacham, who voted for presidents of both parties and wrote a favorable biography of former President George HW Bush, played an unusual role during the 2020 campaign. He publicly endorsed Mr. Biden in a Washington editorial Post in March and received a top notch speech at the Democratic convention.

In that speech, he addressed the nation from his home in Nashville and warned that “our democracy is beset by an incumbent more interested in himself than the rest of us.” He called the choice voters faced in November “a choice that goes directly to the nature of the American soul.”

Mr. Meacham is not expected to join the administration. But his connection to Mr. Biden is reminiscent of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Schlesinger worked for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign and as a member of his White House staff, then chronicled his presidency.

Mr. Biden’s use of a historian contrasts with President Trump’s lack of interest in the past. Mr. Biden is known as someone who enjoys using historical analogies in his public speeches and his own thinking, and historians have said it makes sense that he would want someone like Mr. Meacham to be involved in the process. writing the speech.

“The fear of this kind of work is that you will be called a court historian and seen as a hyperpartisan,” said Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University. “But if anyone can do it, Meacham can. He is loved by moderate Republicans. He’s a successful writer. He’s a word maker and that’s what Biden needs. He’s probably able to keep a foothold in both worlds.

Mr Brinkley added that Mr Meacham was uniquely placed to help Mr Biden incorporate “patriotic traditions” into his speeches.

Mr Meacham declined to comment on his role.

During the Trump years, Mr. Meacham had also been a regular feature on MSNBC and NBC News shows. But as of Monday, he was not a paid contributor to the network, according to two people familiar with the decision. Mr Meacham was due to return to NBC as an unpaid guest and could return to his paid role next year, possibly after the inauguration, people said. NBC declined to comment.

Indeed, Mr. Meacham appeared on MSNBC before and after Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech on Saturday. About half an hour after Mr. Biden’s conclusion, presenter Brian Williams introduced Mr. Meacham by saying, “I’m not the historian that you are, and I don’t have the Pulitzer that you do, but do you agree what are we used to hearing our presidents? “

“Absolutely,” Meacham replied, without revealing that he had participated in the writing of the speech.

Shortly before Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Mr Biden took the stage, Mr Meacham commented on the symbolism of a new administration featuring a 77-year-old institutionalist and a vice-president-elect “who represents in many ways changing demographics. from the country.”

“It’s poetic,” Meacham said. “There is a lot of poetry tonight.”