Hunter Biden’s Woes Reveal Joe Biden’s Character and the Kind of Father He Is

Posted in: Politics

As has been widely noted, whatever the legal merits of Hunter Biden’s prosecution and conviction, it has many of the qualities of a Greek tragedy. And as his case unfolded, it exposed the most intimate details of his private life.

The Washington Post said quite simply that “Biden’s trial pulled back [the] curtain on family’s dark moments.” The fact that Hunter is the son of the President of the United States only deepens the tabloid intrigue.

Here, I do not want to focus on Hunter and what he did, but instead on what we can learn about Joe Biden’s character from the way he has handled himself throughout Hunter Biden’s case. That case offers another example of how much we learn about people’s character from how they react in tragic situations.

“Character,” as Suzanne Fields writes, “is determined by how we respond to events and circumstances, particularly when things go wrong.” And character will be on the ballot in November. It is one of the many stark divides between President Biden and his Republican challenger, Donald Trump.

Long ago, Abraham Lincoln pointed to the importance of assessing the character of our political leaders by contrasting what he called “reputation” with character. “Reputation is the shadow,” Lincoln said, “and character is the tree.”

Reputation, Lincoln understood, “can be faked in politics by the arts of clever image-makers. Character can’t be faked because it’s who we are when no one is watching.” More than a century after Lincoln, political scientist James David Barber showed how presidential performance is shaped by the character of those who hold the office, by “the way the President orients himself toward life.”

Because Joe Biden has been in the public eye for a very long time, Americans already know much about how he “orients himself toward life.” But we have recently learned much more about the President as he has endured the agony of watching his son brought before the bar of justice.

The President himself has reminded us that Hunter’s trial has also been something of a trial for him. First and foremost, it tests the strength of their father-son relationship.

Such relationships are obviously very important to Joe Biden. As journalism professor Chris Lamb argues, “President Joe Biden often talks about the close relationship he had with his father and how this influenced him growing up as ‘the scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania.’”

Biden’s father, Lamb writes, “lost his job after World War II and abused alcohol, struggling financially for years before getting back on his feet and finding middle-class work selling cars near Wilmington, Delaware.”

The President frequently tells stories about his father. He cites his father’s advice: “The measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.”

While the truth of Biden’s relationship with his father is more complicated than can be captured in that one aphorism, his father’s words may explain why President Biden has gone out of his way to praise “Hunter’s resilience in the face of adversity and the strength he has brought to his recovery are inspiring to us. A lot of families,” the President notes, “have loved ones who have overcome addiction and know what we mean.”

In 2019, Biden posted on Instagram his late father’s belief that “there’s no higher calling for a woman or a man than to be a good mother or a good father.” Trying to be a good father has always seemed to be one of Joe Biden’s highest priorities.

That may be why he went home to Delaware every night to be with his children rather than staying in Washington, DC, when he started his career in the Senate. CNN estimated he took about 8,000 round trips on the same route.

“‘Looking back on it, the truth be told, the real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me,’” he told CNN in 2015, “noting that pundits suggested his absences from Washington would wreck his political career.”

The importance Biden places on being a good father may also explain why, at the start of Hunter’s trial, Biden acknowledged that he would be tested in both his public and private life by what was about to unfold. “I am the President,” Joe Biden remarked, “but I am also a Dad.”

“As the President, I don’t and won’t comment on pending federal cases, but as a Dad, I have boundless love for my son, confidence in him, and respect for his strength.”

ABC News reports that throughout Hunter’s legal troubles, it has been clear that “the fatherly relationship Joe Biden has with his son Hunter outweighs concerns about appearances and political implications.” It quotes President Biden, who said, “‘I love my son, number one. He fought—an addiction problem. He overcame it. He wrote about it. And no, there’s not a single thing that I’ve observed at all from that would affect me or the United States relative to my son Hunter.’”

In recent years, loving Hunter has not been easy.

Hunter makes that clear in his 2021 memoir. He captures the challenge when he writes about how his father, then Vice President, reacted when he came to check on Hunter during one of his alcohol and drug benders.

“The last thing I wanted,” Hunter writes, “was Dad showing up in front of my apartment building with his massive security detail. But almost a month in, he’d had enough. He reduced his security to a minimum and knocked on my door.”

“I let him in,” Hunter wrote. “He looked aghast at what he saw. He asked if I was okay and I told him, sure, I was fine. ‘I know you’re not fine, Hunter,’ he said, studying me, scanning the apartment. ‘You need help.’ I looked into my dad’s eyes and saw an expression of despair, an expression of fear.”

Despair and fear, who has not felt both in the face of a child’s struggles? But, as an ABC News story notes, “Throughout the book, Joe Biden is cast in a recurring role as Hunter Biden’s lifeline, guiding him through moments of seemingly insurmountable difficulty in his relationships and his drug addiction.”

While I do not know exactly what Joe Biden feels in the shadow of his son’s criminal conviction, I was struck by the very public display of affection that the President showered on Hunter the first time he saw him after the verdict was handed down.

It gave vivid evidence of the sincerity of what the President said at the time. “Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

Whatever Joe Biden, the father, is feeling about the legal proceedings brought against his son, unlike Donald Trump, who has bitterly attacked the prosecutors and judges involved in the various cases against him, Biden has said nothing about U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee who is serving as special counsel in Hunter’s case, or about Judge Maryellen Noreika, who presided at the trial and who was nominated to the bench by Trump.

Instead of deriding trials and the juries, as his opponent for the presidency has been wont to do, Biden said that he would respect the jury verdict, and “When asked by interviewer David Muir of ABC if he would rule out pardoning Hunter Biden, the President gave a one-word answer, “Yes.”

Unfailing loyalty, boundless love, constancy, and self-restraint of the kind Biden has shown surely are important character traits in someone who aspires to lead this nation. As Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University, says, “When push comes to shove, a candidate’s character might be the most important factor guiding how he or she will make decisions and run the White House.”

Voters can rest assured about Biden’s character. He has passed the test posed by his son Hunter’s troubles with flying colors.

Posted in: Politics

Tags: Hunter Biden, Joe Biden

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