Is Joe Biden the Jon Meacham Candidate?

Here is the Biden announcement video:

Biden appeals to the “Soul of America.”  Historian Jon Meacham recently published “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”  (Biden and Meacham appeared together earlier this year).

Biden focused his campaign video on the Charlottesville race riots of August 2017.   In his Introduction, Meacham begins with the story of segregationist Strom Thurmond’s 1948 speech in Charlottesville and then moves to the racial violence in Charlottesville in 2017.  (Biden and Meacham also discuss this here at around the 56-minute mark).

If I were Alexander Burns annotating this speech at The New York Times I would note Biden’s debt to Meacham.

Meacham writes:

I have chosen to consider the American soul more than the American Creed because there is a significant difference between professing adherence to a set of beliefs and acting upon them.The war between the ideal and the real, between what’s right and what’s convenient, between the larger good and personal interest is the contest that unfolds in the soul of every American.

He adds:

Philosophically speaking, the soul is the vital center, the core, the essence of life….Socrates believed the soul was nothing less than the animating force of reality….In terms of Western thought, then, the soul is generally accepted as a central and self-evident truth.  It is what makes us us….

Biden’s campaign video is inspirational. It will win him supporters.  But unlike Meacham, who distinguishes between the “American soul” and the “American Creed,” Biden confuses the two.  He begins with a reference to the “soul,” but spends most of the speech talking about America as an “idea.”

I am not sure I have a larger point here.  I am just wondering if “soul” and “idea” are incompatible when applied to a nation.   🙂


3 thoughts on “Is Joe Biden the Jon Meacham Candidate?

  1. I am a fan of Colonial Williamsburg. Some of the programs there are consistent with those over the history of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Speeches by and interactions between founders from 18th century Virginia.
    The last couple decades they have added many stories of the enslaved and other “outsiders”.
    My wife and I run to those portraying the enslaved because they were really oppressed and longing for freedom. The issues for the white people railing against parliament and King were more about ideas. Taxation without representation for instance, while their taxes were not more burdensome than those of British citizens in Britain.
    Ideas and ideals may or may not have incredible weight to them.
    Matters of the soul are weighty. They would not strike so deeply otherwise.
    Our ideals may be offended. What strikes deeply and wounds, by definition perhaps, must be hitting home.


  2. John,

    I share you view that soul and idea are generally different but using the poetic license of the orator it is possible to merge them in a rhetorical context.

    Joe Biden does, however, have a history of plagiarizing the work of more gifted writers and speakers. He did it verbatim with the words of Neil Kinnock a number of years ago. Is he now doing it more loosely with the work on Jon Meacham?


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