Mid­dle Class Joe ‘ex­on­er­ated,’ but cam­paign can’t es­cape dam­age

The Washington Times Weekly - - Forgivenes­s -

Former Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den and his son Hunter may have been — say it with me — “ex­on­er­ated!” for their ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine, but Mr. Bi­den has not es­caped dam­age. In­deed, the Ukraine im­broglio will likely prove fa­tal in a presidenti­al race in which Mr. Bi­den was once firmly en­sconced as the front-run­ner.

Set aside the fact that the Bi­dens were “ex­on­er­ated!” only by the no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt gov­ern­ment of Ukraine — a gov­ern­ment that had ev­ery rea­son to curry fa­vor with a po­ten­tial next pres­i­dent of the United States. That was enough for The New York Times to de­clare any al­le­ga­tions against the former vice pres­i­dent and his son “un­founded.”

But even the plain, undis­puted facts of the case un­der­mine the two cen­tral ar­gu­ments for Mr. Bi­den’s can­di­dacy.

First, of course, is that Mr. Bi­den is uniquely at­tuned to the con­cerns of the mid­dle class — so much so that, dur­ing his vice presidenti­al ten­ure, the life­long politi­cian even adopted the moniker “Mid­dle Class Joe.” His nick­name con­veyed that Joe Bi­den is not just sym­pa­thetic to the mid­dle class, but also a fully mid­dle-class man him­self. Much has been made of the fact, for in­stance, that Mr. Bi­den spent the first 10 years of his life in that epit­ome of all things vir­tu­ous and mid­dle class, Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia. (Less has been made of his later for­ma­tive years, liv­ing in tax shel­ter Delaware, where his fa­ther worked as a suc­cess­ful car dealer.)

Fur­ther­ing his mythol­ogy as a reg­u­lar Joe is that dur­ing his decades of work in Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Bi­den never ac­tu­ally set up a home here, but com­muted each day via Am­trak back to Wilm­ing­ton. (This, though, is an odd one, given that Am­trak’s ex­tor­tion­ate prices en­sure that only the de­cid­edly non-mid­dle class could af­ford to use the sys­tem as a com­muter rail.) Just last week, Mr. Bi­den tweeted that “be­ing mid­dle class isn’t a num­ber. It’s a value set,” rais­ing dis­turb­ing ques­tions about what he thinks about the poor — but fur­ther­ing his im­age as Mid­dle Class Joe.

Rather less a part of the tra­di­tional mid­dle-class “value set” is trad­ing on your name and your fa­ther’s po­si­tion to se­cure a se­ries of lu­cra­tive po­si­tions, as Hunter Bi­den in­dis­putably did.

That the younger Mr. Bi­den, with zero en­ergy business ex­pe­ri­ence to his name, was given a $50,000-per-month di­rec­tor­ship on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas com­pany, Burisma Hold­ings, while his fa­ther was serv­ing as vice pres­i­dent and while war-rav­aged Ukraine was des­per­ately beg­ging the United States for aid, is in­dis­putable. So is the fact that Joe Bi­den did not ob­ject to such a squir­relly ar­range­ment. The Ukraine ar­range­ment blows a hole in the no­tion that the Bi­dens, fa­ther and son, are jes’ mid­dle-class folk.

The sec­ond cen­tral plank of Mr. Bi­den’s presidenti­al can­di­dacy is that he is a man of great in­tegrity, es­pe­cially in con­trast to the ve­nal Pres­i­dent Trump. Mr. Bi­den has promised re­peat­edly to re­store the “in­tegrity” and “soul” of the coun­try. But the rev­e­la­tion that the Bi­dens are just an­other sleazy, paid-up po­lit­i­cal fam­ily fa­tally un­der­mines in this ra­tio­nale for his can­di­dacy as well.

It’s telling, in­deed, that Mr. Bi­den’s de­fend­ers can’t even muster a real de­fense for Hunter’s ex­cel­lent Ukrainian ad­ven­ture and his fa­ther’s com­pla­cency. Take Su­san Hen­nessey, an om­nipresent avatar of es­tab­lish­ment lib­er­al­ism — she has a sinecure at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, a near-per­ma­nent role on CNN blabfests and a Twit­ter feed that never rests. But Ms. Hen­nessey could muster only a, “hey, ev­ery­body does it, and at least he dis­closed it” “de­fense.”

“All pres­i­dents and vice pres­i­dents and cab­i­net mem­bers have fam­ily and friends whose jobs might be im­pacted by pol­icy. That’s why we ask them to ob­serve trans­par­ent ethics pro­cesses and norms. That is what Bi­den did,” she tweeted.

Af­ter sev­eral days of ra­dio si­lence on the is­sue, Mr. Bi­den came out with an op-ed over the week­end in Wash­ing­ton’s other news­pa­per declar­ing, “Trump won’t de­stroy me, and he won’t de­stroy my fam­ily.”

“Ev­ery day — ev­ery few hours, seem­ingly — more ev­i­dence is un­cov­ered re­veal­ing that Pres­i­dent Trump is abus­ing the power of the pres­i­dency and is wholly un­fit to be pres­i­dent,” Mr. Bi­den wrote. “He is fran­ti­cally push­ing flatout lies, de­bunked con­spir­acy the­o­ries and smears against me and my fam­ily, no doubt hop­ing to un­der­mine my can­di­dacy for the pres­i­dency.”

Words that did not ap­pear in the former vice pres­i­dent’s op-ed in­clude “Ukraine,” “Hunter” and “Burisma Hold­ings.”

And doesn’t that say it all? Ethan Ep­stein is deputy opin­ion edi­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times. Con­tact him at eep­[email protected]­ing­ton­times.com or on Twit­ter @ethanep­sti­i­i­ine.

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