With a growing sense of relief, I watched an American president demonstrate dignity in public.
Sometimes it just comes around the corner and strikes me: we have a functioning adult as our leader.
I wandered into our TV room Friday after a busy week and saw President Biden holding a press conference with his counterpart from South Korea, Moon Jae-in.
The tone was positive and informed as President Biden read his prepared remarks and then answered media questions. At one point he chided a male American questioner to be nice; clearly, they have a history. But it was said with a smile on both parts – a far cry from the ugly retorts, usually to female questioners, from the ignorant, preening brute we had until recently.
Instead, Joe Biden seems to be telling the country (and the world): we’re all in this together, we can do better, we can get along.
President Biden (I feel better just typing that) often speaks of his motivation to improve life for Americans. As David Brooks wrote recently after a telephone interview, President Biden often talks about his father’s suffering from a business going down, through no fault of his. Our president transfers his compassion to people who are not doing well.
I hear a tone from my younger days, now long, long ago. I can see my mother crying when she heard that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her father figure, had died on April 12, 1945. (I was 6; I had seen him campaign in Queens on a nasty, drizzly day in October.) FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt had helped carry this country through a depression and then a world war. They are the gold standard, for me.
I am surprised to think of Joe Biden in these terms. I was not impressed with him when he was a senator or even a vice president. I thought he was politically dead when he left New Hampshire and went to make his last stand in South Carolina in 2020. But he has grown, and grown, and grown.
Sometimes Presidents surprise. Harry S. Truman was derided as an unknown, a mediocrity, an accident, but he carried the U.S. from wartime into hopeful post-war growth. Coming from a leftward Democrat family, I tended to mock Dwight D. Eisenhower – but how centrist, how prepared, Ike seems now.
Time changes perspective. I reviled Lyndon B. Johnson for Vietnam but now appreciate his domestic policies; I scorned George W. Bush but now I envision him as the leader who jauntily fired a strike from the mound at Yankee Stadium shortly after 9-11.
Plus Michelle Obama likes him, that’s good enough for me, Let me put it this way: W makes a very decent ex-President.
Time and legal investigations will take care of the poseur who called in American terrorists to attack the Capitol, and forces his toadies to lie for him.
Meantime, President Biden restores a spring cleaning of the soul: dignity in the White House.
This President can take in information. He can read. He can speak precisely, in diplomatic codes. On Friday, I heard a former ambassador to Seoul, Christopher Hill, on MSNBC, analyzing the President’s performance: the diplomat said the President was telling the world he has his eye on the dangerous leader of North Korea; he gave South Korea major attention early in his term.
For starters, President Biden offered to vaccinate South Korean soldiers. (My wife and I went to the DMZ with the U.S. soccer team during the 2002 World Cup; we still remember the impressive American and South Korean troops, ready for anything, just steps from the border.)
Joe Biden has seen pain strike three generations of Bidens. Now he acts like a healer.
I don’t envy him, all the eruptions coming at him. I’m a few years older than he is, and I want a nap.
But going into the weekend, I feel a bit better at the sight of Joe Biden an informed adult, who wants to heal, not pillage.
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.
"People have said to me, ‘You’re fully vaccinated. Why are you being so careful?’” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m still in the camp of I don’t want to get Covid. I don’t want to get a breakthrough infection.”
---Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2021.