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