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The Right Time for Joe Biden

Summary:
The new US president may not be an original thinker, a courageous leader, or exude personal magnetism, but are liberal democracies best served by such leaders in times of crisis? In fact, those hoping for a new New Deal in America can take comfort in the precedent of Franklin D. Roosevelt. NEW YORK – It is easy to underestimate Joe Biden. The new US president has been dismissed by some people on the left as a party hack, a trimmer, a holdover from a corrupt and broken establishment. An article in the conservative journal National Review bore the headline: “Joe Biden: Mediocrity Personified.” It was written by that right-wing admirer of great men, Conrad Black, the former newspaper owner and convicted fraudster.

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The new US president may not be an original thinker, a courageous leader, or exude personal magnetism, but are liberal democracies best served by such leaders in times of crisis? In fact, those hoping for a new New Deal in America can take comfort in the precedent of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

NEW YORK – It is easy to underestimate Joe Biden. The new US president has been dismissed by some people on the left as a party hack, a trimmer, a holdover from a corrupt and broken establishment. An article in the conservative journal National Review bore the headline: “Joe Biden: Mediocrity Personified.” It was written by that right-wing admirer of great men, Conrad Black, the former newspaper owner and convicted fraudster.

Biden, so far, is not a great man. Still, a figure who has operated for four decades in the snake pit of Washington politics, and was elected president at the age of 78, cannot be so easily dismissed. He is at the very least a highly skilled politician.

Biden is neither a brilliant thinker nor a heroic leader. He doesn’t have much charisma either, which is refreshing after four years of spectacular misrule under Donald Trump. If Biden has ever had an original idea, he has disguised it well. In his 1988 presidential campaign, he even cribbed from a speech by the British politician Neil Kinnock. But at least Biden didn’t shift the blame to his speechwriter, as Trump and his wife Melania have done when similar lapses occurred.

The question is whether liberal democracies are best served by brilliant or heroic leaders. Such figures would seem...

Ian Buruma
Editor of The New York Review of Books, author of Theater of Cruelty, Year Zero: A History of 1945, and Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

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