(Ron Knecht) Presidents’ Day fell on February 15 this year, and the birthday of our first and greatest chief executive, George Washington, was February 26. The birthdays of two of our other greatest presidents also occurred that month: Abe Lincoln, February 14; and Ronald Reagan, February 6.
So, it seems to me timely to discuss how the preparations of our 46th president, Joe Biden, compares with theirs. (Personal apology: I started this column two weeks ago but was recovering from knee replacement and couldn’t finish it until now.)
George Washington was born in 1732 to a wealthy Virginia family that had made its fortune in land speculation on the frontier. Washington was the oldest of six children of his parents, and his father had three children by a previous marriage. His older half-brother Lawrence inherited the estate that eventually became Washington’s Mount Vernon when Lawrence left it to Washington.
Washington did not receive the formal education of his brother at the Appleby Grammar School in England, but he did learn mathematics, trigonometry and land surveying. He was a talented draftsman and map-maker, And he wrote with “considerable force” and “precision,” albeit “lacking in wit and humor.” In pursuit of admiration, status and power, Wikipedia reports, he tended to attribute his shortcomings and failures to someone else’s ineffectuality.
Lincoln was born in February 1809 to a poor Kentucky family that moved to Indiana and then to Illinois, where people revered him so much they later adopted “Land of Lincoln” as the state motto. Never having gotten a formal education, the self-taught Lincoln “read the law” and became a well-known lawyer and orator.
Reagan was born in February 1911 in Illinois, also to a low-income family. He graduated from Eureka College. He worked as a swimming life-guard and radio broadcaster before heading for Hollywood to be an actor, union leader and 33rd governor of California and president.
Lesson here for President Biden: It’s good to be born on the frontier, but the frontier has always shifted west. At least it did so until Jay Gatsby, who claimed to be from San Francisco, learned the frontier had shifted back to east and moved himself to New York. So, you being born in Pennsylvania and moving to Delaware is not a problem.
Also, broadening the notion of frontier to include the emerging commerce of the era, the other three presidents hit the nail on the head: Washington as surveyor and map-maker when the territory was being opened. Ditto, Lincoln’s professions from rail-splitter to lawyer as he matured. And Reagan from actor to politician, two growth industries of the 20th Century
So, Biden’s lack of elite academic education is not a problem. He developed a saleable craft, as they all had.
He also learned the essential skills of writing and speaking with considerable force. But while Washington was self-taught in this regard, Lincoln borrowed much from the Bible and law books, and Reagan had legitimate scripts, some of which he wrote for radio himself, Biden found his voice a less honorable way. Some of his best written and spoken pieces have definitively been found to be plagiarized.
Washington, of course, had a legendary early military career from soldier to very successful planter and businessman to local politician and leader. As General of the army of the Continental Congress, he learned military diplomacy with the many generals under him and international diplomacy with our French allies. Biden, having become a U.S. Senator at age 30 with no experience except lawyering, had none of these advantages.
Lincoln had only a year in the military during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Then he ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature before winning two years later. Those were the first of many political campaigns, of which he lost more than he won. However, that experience, his great success as a farmer and his long years as a revered lawyer gave him a great edge over Biden.
Even Reagan’s work and experience before being elected California governor much exceeded Biden’s pre-senatorial preparation. But Biden’s half-century as a senator and eight years as vice president have certainly prepared him for the Presidency.
For the sake of our country, we wish him well.