What kind of president will Biden be? His biographer speaks in the t-online interview about the person and politician Biden – and reveals what role Germany is playing in his plans.
Joe Biden is faced with a difficult task: He promises to unite a divided nation – and to restore his country’s reputation in the world. “Above all, Biden wants to fix things, both internally and in foreign policy,” said the American journalist Evan Osnos in an interview with t-online.
The author of a published in October unofficial biography spoke with Biden several times for his book, but also with ex-President Barack Obama. In an interview, he reveals how he looks at Biden’s health, what kind of US President the Democrat will be and what Biden thinks – apart from the known public statements – about Donald Trump.
Photo series with 12 pictures
t-online: Mr. Osnos, what kind of president will Joe Biden be?
Osnos: He will be a president who believes in the basic virtue of governance, which is a radical break from current political leadership. He succeeds a president who has systematically undermined the function and credibility of American governance. The level has dropped so much that it may be Biden’s fundamental project to restore the basic functioning of government. Anything beyond that is already constrained by the political circumstances in the US.
Evan Osnos, 43, is an award-winning US journalist and author. Since 2008 he has been writing for the left-wing liberal magazine “New Yorker”, of which he was China correspondent until 2013. In October his Biden biography was published in Germany, parallel to the publication in the USA. Osnos lives with his family in Washington.
In foreign policy he has more leeway than in domestic policy. One of his first conversations after the election was with Chancellor Angela Merkel. How does Biden look at them?
It is clearly his longest deep relationship with Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised if his first trip abroad took him to Germany, which would alarm the British. He has a much more complicated relationship with Boris Johnson than with Merkel. He could thus signal his belief in Germany, Europe and the western liberal world order, so he could invest heavily in the relationship with Merkel.
When Biden talks about foreign policy in the election campaign, it’s usually about going back. Back to the Paris climate agreement, back to some kind of Iran deal. Does he really think he can turn back time?
To some extent: yes. We’ll see pretty soon if he can keep up with a changed reality. Biden believes we need to signal to the rest of the world that Trump was just an aberration and not a US realignment. That is the message behind his drive to return to certain agreements. Above all, Biden wants to fix things, both internally and in foreign policy.
Aside from his public statements about Donald Trump, what did Joe Biden tell you about what he sees in Trump?
In fact, there is something I didn’t put in my book. They were more like marginal comments, but they probably reveal his true feelings. I think he’s repelled by Trump.
How did he put it?
At the end of an interview we had, it was about Vladimir Putin and that Biden would never behave like Trump towards him. He already got up and then said something else. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but what about Trump and Putin? Seriously, what’s going on?” I liked that because at that moment he wasn’t a cautious politician who stayed away from all the theories about Trump and Russia …
… which the left US public has dealt with for years without coming to any knowledge.
Correct. He said at the moment that he still does not understand Donald Trump’s submission to this day. And because Biden often argues morally, he is deeply disturbed. He looks at Trump’s personal and political behavior and finds it repulsive.
Now Trump is blocking the transfer of power to his elected successor. Did Biden expect it?
Biden has said from the start that the process could get very, very ugly. That Trump could mess with the vote count and the election results. He already suspected this in a conversation in July. When we talked about Trump, the conversation took a turn and Biden went humorless and somber.
His promise is to unite the divided nation. Is he a bit naive about that?
I think his hope of repairing the split enables him to turn a blind eye to its depth. Biden was shaped politically and psychologically at a time when the divide in America was not so deep. He internalized that.
He was elected to the Senate 48 years ago – half an eternity.
Yes, and at that time the Senate was actually still functioning. When I interviewed Barack Obama for the book this summer, he said, “It’s been really painful for Joe to come to terms with how broken the democratic process is in this country.”
Is Biden’s optimism to be able to bring both sides together, so something played?
Biden tries to strike a balance between describing the problem and the state the country should strive for. He is of the opinion that something can be set in motion. He sees that Trump’s malicious charisma captivates many actors. But he believes that once Trump is removed from the equation, individual senators will completely redefine their interests.
Are you interested in US politics? Washington correspondent Fabian Reinbold writes a newsletter about his work in the White House and his impressions from the US under Donald Trump. Here you can subscribe to the “Post from Washington” free of charge, which then lands directly in your mailbox once a week.
Biden is now celebrating his 78th birthday. He would be 82 years old at the end of his first term. Isn’t that too old for one of the most stressful jobs on earth?
When we were talking about his age and aging in general, he told me he made a mistake in encouraging his father to retire. His father passed away soon after. This is another reason why Biden believes that you should keep going as long as you can do a job well. As one of his advisors put it this way: He’s afraid he’s a bit like a shark that dies as soon as he stops swimming.
Does Biden suffer from dementia, as Donald Trump’s camp suggests?
As far as I can tell: no. His doctors recently attested that he was a healthy, strong man for his age. Certainly his voice is hoarse, he moves more cautiously on stage than before. But his mind has stayed the same. Of course I can’t see into the future.
What is one misconception about Joe Biden that you keep coming across?
The idea that he had no ideology. It does follow an ideology, namely centrism. He believes that politics is changing and that a politician must reflect that change in society.
There are rumors in Washington that Vice President Kamala Harris could steal the show from him in the White House.
She will be a very different Vice President than he was for Obama. As Obama’s vice-president, Biden had brought foreign policy experience and connections to Congress. She, on the other hand, embodies a livelier democratic party than he does. That’s why we’ll see a lot of her. But he expects loyalty from her. Biden is proud that during his time as Vice Obama he did not betray Obama by secretly running a campaign on his own behalf from the White House. He wouldn’t be happy at all if it looked like Kamala Harris was using her vice presidency primarily as a launch pad for her own ambitions for the presidency.
Mr. Osnos, thank you for the interview.