The leading Democrat candidate for 2020, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., will not be the party's nominee, despite steadily growing support. When politics, business, and family come together, Biden's moral vision blurs. It will be his downfall.
His is a long and traumatic journey. Biden rose quickly in national politics, a Catholic in the Kennedy mold, square-jawed and full of ambition, but with the common touch. His story, slowly uncovered over years of accomplishment, loss, and pain is a classic tragedy, and in keeping, it is ultimately a criminal tale as well. One can't help but feel pity for the aging and sentimental Biden, who first lost his wife and one year-old daughter in a 1972 car crash while Christmas shopping, and then his son Beau, his firstborn and political heir apparent, to brain cancer in May of 2015.
These are horrific events no parent should have to endure. Biden was a single father to his two boys for years after the car crash, all while he was a new senator. As Biden states in his biography, Promises To Keep (and sounding disturbingly like Liam Neeson in his recent controversial confession), "I liked to [walk around seedy neighborhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight...I had not known I was capable of such rage...I felt God had played a horrible trick on me."
The psychological effect of these and other events, combined with professional disappointments over the decades, may well have catalyzed the ruinous decisions Biden has made in recent years.
The surviving son, Hunter Biden, suffered the same loss of his mother and baby sister as a young boy. Hunter sustained a fractured skull in the accident (a tractor trailer hit the family car, the driver was found not at fault). Hunter went on to name one of his daughters Naomi, after his lost baby sister. When Beau died, in a case of Shakespeare-meets-Jerry-Springer, Hunter took up with Beau's widow Hallie while separated from his own wife, Kathleen. For two years Hunter and Hallie lived together, though they announced a split two weeks ago, perhaps unwilling or unable to weather the gathering storm of scrutiny surrounding Joe's nascent campaign.
Hunter is the linchpin, the common cause of Joe's recent blunders. On paper, Hunter appears to be both a success and the family's black sheep. Closer scrutiny reveals that the scales tip heavily to the latter. One can forgive a father for looking past the failings of his son when so much was lost early in the boy's life, especially when their pain is intimately shared. Familial forgiveness is one thing, but Joe's notion of forgiving involved political favors and taxpayer funds, crimes too obvious to ignore, and then there's the matter of Hallie. Sentimentality and favoritism exacerbated by old age is not an acceptable confluence of traits in the potential leader of the free world.
The first misstep was in 2013. In a steroidal case of Take-Your-Kid-To-Work-Day, Hunter flew with his father to China on Air Force Two. Within days, as Peter Schweizer points out in his book Secret Empires, Hunter's investment firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners, landed a $1.5 billion deal with the Chinese government. It's one thing to help get your son's career on track, it's another entirely to use the loftiest political influence in the world, taxpayer funds, and unknown deals to land him a ten-figure deal with a geopolitical nemesis.
It should be noted that Rosemont Seneca's other partners are John Kerry's children, and that the firm appears to be a well-fixed landing pad for the troubled youths of both families.
In 2013, Hunter tested positive for cocaine and was discharged from the Naval Reserve. He had been commissioned into the Navy despite having no prior military experience, a spotty criminal record, and being past the cutoff age (he was 43 at the time). How does one receive such special dispensation, apart from being the son of a sitting VPOTUS?
It's worth noting that a certain family friend, father to Hunter's business partners, has no small degree of influence in the Navy, as he was a highly decorated Lieutenant and Commander of several Swift Boats in Vietnam. That man, of course, is John Kerry, who got his start in the armed forces by enlisting in...the Naval Reserve.
The program Hunter completed is a farce writ small. He had six classmates. From his own Wikipedia page: "In May 2013, Biden was selected as a direct commission officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a program that allows civilians with no prior service to receive a limited duty officer's commission after attending a two-week class covering topics such as military history, etiquette, and drill and ceremony, in lieu of boot camp. Because Biden was past the cut-off age for the program, he needed a waiver. Biden received a second waiver because of past drug use and drug related arrests. One month after commissioning, Biden tested positive for cocaine use and was discharged from the Navy reserve in February 2014. It is not clear whether his discharge was "general" or "other than honorable"."
A two-week course on history and etiquette = a lifetime of saying "I served with pride." Heck of a deal. Of course, what is easily granted is easily squandered. Military service was meant to bolster Hunter's resumé, perhaps setting the table for a political run to rival that of his brother Beau. Again, one feels the guiding hand of the father at work here, pushing Hunter to pursue yet another aspect of a ready-made future.
After Hunter's predictable washout, Biden demonstrated poor judgment yet again, both as a father and a statesman: almost immediately, the son's discharge led to a job for a gas company oligarch in the Ukraine for $2.6 million a year. Biden was helping the company, Burisma, avoid legal action. As Rand Paul heatedly pointed out to a flustered George Stephanopoulos on Monday, taxpayers deserve to know about these backroom dealings. In a spluttering smoke bomb of an article for the Washington Post, Oliver Bullough lamely avoids mentioning Hunter's salary and makes an obfuscatory argument that the real story here is the sacking of an inept Ukranian attorney general.
Back to the psychological: everyone, even Bullough, admits giving Hunter the job was a mistake. But why was it done? Through the Biden lens, cracked by tragedy and covered with the fingerprints of good intention, Hunter's job appears to have been arranged as either a participation trophy from his doting dad, or as a financial life preserver.
The trophy theory fits if we see Joe as the ameliorative father who desperately wants all his children to be happy. Daughter Ashley, from Biden's second marriage, also had some bad drug-related press, but eventually married and is now a fashion designer and social worker. As Hunter's mishaps piled up, his brother Beau--Joseph Robinette "Beau" Biden III--was building an enviable career. Attorney General of Delaware by age 37, he also rose to the rank of Major in the Delaware National Guard as a Judge Advocate General. At the time of his death, Beau was considered the frontrunner for Governor of Delaware. Everyone was fine except Hunter. How to help the emotionally scarred boy Joe had raised?
The financial life preserver theory is equally feasible. Hunter has regularly struggled with financial responsibility, according to his ex-wife Kathleen Biden during their divorce proceedings. She accused him of spending the family's money on cocaine (checks out so far) and prostitutes. Divorce proceedings are often rocky, but it is worth noting that the case was settled quickly, and Hunter's lawyers did not publicly dispute Kathleen's accusations.
Lastly, Biden allows, even endorses Hunter's affair with Hallie a scant five months after Beau's death: “We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness,” he said in a statement. “They have mine and Jill’s full and complete support and we are happy for them.” It is astounding that Biden would permit his unstable, scandal-ridden son to abandon his own nuclear family and take up with his dead son's widow.
The press held back in a rare show of deference, but neither the act nor the endorsement are the actions of mentally sound people. Might Hunter and Kathleen (or Joe and Jill) have invited Hallie to live with them, or visited often, attended group therapy sessions with her, planned group trips with Hallie's two children and Hunter's three? There are many ways to heal after great loss, but divorcing your wife to comfort an aggrieved sister-in-law is morally, not to mention politically, wrong. It is another of Hunter's social-emotional miscalculations, but it is Joe's public paternal failure.
This is not Biden's first crack at the presidency. It is his third.
In 2008, he ran but never got out of single digits in the polls, quickly withdrew, then danced around the idea of the vice presidency before signing onto the Obama ticket.
His first bid, in the 1988 race more than 30 years ago, failed despite Biden raising more money than either Dick Gephardt or the eventual nominee, Michael Dukakis. He was embarrassed by accusations of plagiarism from a campaign trail speech, and after bowing out, had two operations to treat brain aneurysms. As with many of the tragedies in the Biden family, either accidental or self-inflicted, it was spun into a positive: if he hadn't dropped out of the race, he wouldn't have detected the first aneurysm, and without treatment, Biden might have died on the campaign trail. Losing saved his life.
Add that psychologically warping memory to the bonfire of hurt pride, familial tragedy, and dashed hopes of dynasty, then cut to election night, November 2016 and consider this: if Hillary had won, Biden would have been reasonably assured that the China scandal would remain a secret, and the Ukraine scandal would have faded from memory. So much Democrat skullduggery would have gone uninvestigated, from wiretapping Trump to the Steele dossier. In the grand scheme, what were a few favors among family? A lifetime politician like Biden never would have gambled so much to help out his less successful son if he thought there was a significant chance he'd be caught. That subterfuge began to unravel when Trump won.
All the Hunter controversy arrows point to one of two conclusions :
One imagines it was the latter, and Biden was simply overcome with grief, too sad and angry to fight Hillary and all his ghosts. After all, Beau was a superstar. Charismatic, but without his father's wandering hands, his penchant for schmaltz, or foot-in-mouth disease. Beau had the honest, earned pedigree that Hunter had tried to ape through backdoor Naval admissions trickery. Beau had the seemingly solid marriage, and the Governor's mansion within reach.
To have an heir with the chops and mettle to almost certainly vie for the presidential nomination himself someday, what an ace up the sleeve. The weight of presidential expectation lifted from Joe's tired shoulders: the Bidens will have another shot, someday. And then to lose him, again to suffer the loss of a child, the loss of lasting legacy, and be forced to recall his own brain disease which thwarted his aspirations the first time. It's haunting.
"If we were in high school, I'd take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him...I've been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life. I'm a pretty damn good athlete." --Joe Biden on the campaign trail, re: President Trump
The retired fighter has been called upon to lace 'em up one last time. Was it Joe's idea this time, or Barack's? Likely both. Obama wants someone to salvage his legacy, and Biden is the only one who can defend the decisions he's made in the name of family. Watch as he chases the campaign donation chicken, as he drinks the raw eggs of press conference questions, as he faces new opponents: Socialist Caucus, Identity Politics, Sonny Scandals, and his old nemesis, Painful Past.
Just today, Biden announced that Philadelphia will be his campaign headquarters, for like Rocky Balboa, Joe Biden is from Pennsylvania. But the similarities end there. Rocky is a champion who overcomes tremendous odds. Joe is a perennial almost-President who has suffered tragic setbacks.
Rocky is fictional. Joe is all too human.
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