New Delhi: The Sunday Guardian spoke to journalist Evan Osnos, who has written US President Joe Biden’s biography, Joe Biden: American Dreamer, which was published by Bloomsbury recently. In his book, which is based on his hours of interaction with Biden, the US President’s close friends and family members, including former President Barack Obama, Osnos has tried to bring out the different, less known insights into Biden as a human being and the setbacks that he suffered and the way he always overcame them.
The book carries anecdotes about Biden that Osnos himself witnessed, anecdotes that have not been reported before, giving a glimpse into what world leaders, including the Indian political leadership, should expect from Biden in the coming four years.
It brings out the string of personal tragedies that Biden has gone through, including the untimely death of his wife, daughter and son, which perhaps explains his deep sense of empathy which is visible from his stand on issues, domestically and globally.
Unlike his predecessor, Biden faced many hardships, Osnos tells us. Biden faced public mockery until his teenage years because of his stuttering. He emerged as a below average student during his law graduation. He was politically sidelined when the Democratic Party asked him to sit out in favour of Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The book is a must read for individuals and organisations, including diplomats and political entities, especially who will be dealing with the Biden administration, for it tells us what Biden went through, what he faced and how he faced them before becoming the “most powerful man” of the world.
Edited excerpts of the interview which was done just a day before Joe Biden took oath as President:
Q: You have known President-elect Joe Biden for six years and are the only one who has penned a biography on him. If you have to describe him in one word what would that be and why?
A: Resilient. He has hit one setback after another in his life—the death of his wife and children, the brain aneurysm, running for President without success. But he has continued forging ahead because it is one of his core beliefs.
Q: He is assuming the role of the American President at a time which can best be described as tumultuous, both domestically and internationally. Do you believe he is among the best men to lead the US in these difficult times? If so, why?
A: There were a lot of Americans running for the Democratic nomination, and many voters did not initially favour Biden. They thought he was perhaps too old and too moderate. But he prevailed in the primary, and ultimately the election because voters saw his ability to survive and remain constructive as a lesson for the country. His life story gives him relevant experience.
Q: President Donald Trump made a name for himself for his “eccentric” and impulsive actions and words. Do these two qualities hold true for Joe Biden too?
A: Though they are both older white men, with a reputation for saying unexpected things, they are radically different people. Even Biden’s opponents and critics often say they like him personally; he doesn’t seek to antagonize. If anything, he is genial to a fault. Trump, on the other hand, seeks to “dominate”, to use one of his favourite words.
Q: US Presidential elections and US Presidents have a wide following in India. During your interactions with Biden, did he speak about India and related issues? What are his views about India?
A: We did not discuss India in detail, I’m sorry to say. I wish we had.
Q: Biden, as you have mentioned in your book, is a “strident voice of skepticism when it comes to the use of American forces outside the country”. In this context, is it safe to assume that America’s focus on “restoring” and “strengthening” democracy in foreign lands will decrease, if not totally cease, under Biden?
A: He has been chastened by America’s misadventure in Iraq. He voted for that war and he came to regret it, so he is more cautious than his predecessors about regime change. But he also believes in voicing support for democracy and criticising those who undermine it. So, you are likely to see him taking a strong position to strengthen democracy with words and policies, but not with armed invasion.
Q: There is a lot of interest, globally, on what US policies on security, economic and foreign affairs under Biden would be. How do you see these policies evolving as a journalist and as someone who knows Biden for long?
A: I see in Biden a clear desire to try to restore American credibility in the eyes of allies who have been shaken by four years of antagonism. His view is that the US is stronger in concert with friends, and he enjoys that process. He was offended by the very notion of America First, and you’re likely to see him devote a lot of time to foreign affairs, but only after he can make progress on combating the primary issues at home: Covid, the economy, and political division.