Home News Four decades later, Biden seeks to echo Reagan’s legacy of American leadership

Four decades later, Biden seeks to echo Reagan’s legacy of American leadership


The elderly US president, who is facing re-election, arrived on the coast of Normandy, France Salute to the brave Army Rangers They scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc to sing the praises of the democracy for which they had died, and perhaps even allowed themselves to bask a little in its glory.

It was 1984, and the president at the time was Ronald Reagan, who delivered an ode to heroism and patriotism that would become one of the most iconic moments of his presidency. Forty years later, another veteran president facing reelection plans to return to the same spot on Friday to honor the same heroes and effectively align himself with Mr. Reagan’s legacy of leadership against tyranny.

President Biden will Not the first president It’s a risky gamble to try to follow in Reagan’s footsteps at Normandy. For many in both parties, Reagan’s speech remains the gold standard for presidential oratory, and none has matched it since at Normandy. But like Reagan, Biden wants to use the inspiring story of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc to defend America’s alliances in the face of Russian aggression — and, implicitly, himself.

If there is anything bold about Mr. Biden, a staunch Democrat who had no friendship with Mr. Reagan in the 1980s, evoking the spirit of the Republican legend, it is a reflection of the up-and-down, black-and-white nature of American politics today. When it comes to international relations, the 46th president is essentially arguing that he has more in common with the 40th president than with the current leader of the Republican Party.

He would not mention former President Donald J. Trump by name, but the contrast was clear. Biden, like Reagan, led an international coalition to confront Russian aggression in Europe, while Trump, as president, Almost quit NATO The attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin is friendlier than toward America’s traditional European allies.

Since leaving office, Trump has not supported providing military aid to Ukraine to defend against Russian aggression. The former president even publicly stated that he would “Encouraging” Russia to “do whatever it wants” Targeting NATO member states that do not spend enough on their military.

It is hard to imagine Reagan telling Moscow it could attack its European allies at will. Appearing at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984, Reagan denounced the Soviet presence in Europe after World War II. “Uninvited, unwelcome, and unyielding” “We have learned that isolationism has never been and never will be an acceptable response to a tyrannical government with expansionist intentions,” he said.

Standing on a concrete bunker in Germany, Mr. Reagan saluted the Army Rangers who scaled a 100-foot rust-colored cliff to destroy a suspected gun emplacement that morning 40 years ago.

"They are the boys of Pointe du Hoc," He said there were about 30 people sitting in front of him, some with tears in their eyes.“They were warriors who took a cliff. They were warriors who helped liberate a continent. They were heroes who helped end a war.”

Garrett M. Graff published this week “When the sea comes back to life” Oral historians of the Normandy landings said Reagan’s speech “really helped elevate the Normandy landings from history to legend.”

“Standing there, rain or shine,” Mr. Graf said, “you can’t help but be moved by the bravery of the soldiers who fought there, fighting for one of the noblest causes ever undertaken by humankind, to liberate a continent and free Europe from darkness.”

Reagan’s speech was so powerful that aides to Democratic challenger Walter F. Mondale, who were watching on television, were both impressed and frustrated.

“I looked around the Mondale press office,” said Mondale aide William Galston. Memories in oral history “Everyone was crying, and I was crying too,” said a reporter at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, who said he realized then that they could not defeat Mr. Reagan. “That’s when I realized in my heart that we were the walking dead.”

No one expected Biden’s speech to impress Trump’s team. But Galston said this week that Biden’s task would be to “connect the challenges of 1944 to the threats we face today and demonstrate that defending Europe remains vital to America’s vital interests.”

Mr. Reagan set the bar so high that his successors struggled to emulate it. “American presidents end up giving a lot of commemorative speeches, but the D-Day anniversary is probably the most daunting because of the iconic nature of Ronald Reagan’s Pointe du Hoc speech,” said Daniel Benjamin, a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. “Forty years later, Biden is making a smart move because it’s no longer a competition with Reagan, but an echo of that moment.”

Russell Reilly, a historian at the Miller Center, said it’s difficult to consciously prepare for a landmark speech. “Reagan created a standard by which everything else pales in comparison,” he said. “But it remains a remarkable point of possibility for a President Biden — precisely because the topic is so historically relevant to this moment.”

Reagan’s speech was written by Peggy Noonan, a young speechwriter who had joined the White House staff two months earlier but had not yet even met the president. In her memoirShe described how she sought inspiration by pacing the Washington Monument and reading books about the D-Day invasion, including Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day.” She eventually adapted one of the speech’s most memorable lines from the title of the baseball classic “The Boys of Summer.”

Max Boot, author of the upcoming biography “Reagan: His Life and Legend,” called the speech one of the highlights of his presidency.

“It was one of the great presidential speeches of the postwar period,” Boot said this week. “It’s a standard Biden will have a hard time matching. But it was also a chance for him to remind his audience of the days when Republicans like Ronald Reagan were NATO’s foremost advocates, not its fiercest critics.”

Reagan was a much stronger candidate politically than Biden is now. He led Mondale by nine points in an early June poll, according to one poll, and that gap nearly doubled to 17 points later that month. Gallup Poll TrackerIn comparison, Biden’s approval rating is about the same as Trump’s In several polls published in recent days,Biden is eight years older than Reagan was at the time, and age presents a greater electoral challenge for him than for his predecessor.

Some analysts believe it would be unwise for Biden to try to emulate Reagan.

“It seems a little odd to choose the location where Reagan gave his greatest speech,” said Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a former aide to President George W. Bush. It will only “incite unwelcome comparisons.”

Biden’s speech, which was written by his speechwriting team along with longtime adviser Mike Donilon and historian Jon Meacham, who was in Normandy for the ceremony, was timed for the late afternoon in France for a morning airing at home, aides said.

“In his view, the Pointe du Hoc speech was a speech about timeless principles — principles that have been the foundation of American security and American democracy for generations,” the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters.

Principles may be timeless, but politics are not. Biden has not always been a fan of Reagan’s foreign policy. In a speech at Harvard in 1987 As a senator planning his first run for president, Biden fiercely criticized Reagan’s “military adventures,” said the “Reagan Doctrine is in tatters,” and said “I have given up on this administration.”

But that was then, and this is now. Mr. Reagan is revered by many, and Mr. Trump is also running in the election. For Mr. Biden, one certainly looks more acceptable than the other. After all, he has not given up on Mr. Reagan’s administration. Now he wants to take advantage of it.

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