Playing the pity card: Biden himself leaked his son's dying wish

We're used to seeing politicians as cynical, manipulative creatures who'd sell their own mothers for votes.

But what about selling a dying son?

Politico is reporting that it was Vice President Joe Biden himself who leaked his son's dying wish that he run for president, planting the story with NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd.  In effect, Biden was "placing an ad in the New York Times" announcing his availability to run, according to the article.

Before that moment and since, Biden has told the Beau story to others. Sometimes details change — the setting, the exact words. The version he gave Dowd delivered the strongest punch to the gut, making the clearest swipe at Clinton by enshrining the idea of a campaign against her in the words of a son so beloved nationally that his advice is now beyond politics. This campaign wouldn’t be about her or her email controversy, the story suggests, but connected to righteousness on some higher plane.

Biden has portrayed his decision about a 2016 run as purely emotional, a question of whether he and has family have the strength. That’s a big part of it. But it’s not all of it.

By every account of those surrounding Biden, Beau is constantly on his father’s mind. But so are Clinton’s poll numbers, and his own, as the vice president notes in private details, such as the crosstab data that show him drawing more support from Clinton than Bernie Sanders. So is the prospect of what it would mean to run against a candidate who would make history as the first female nominee, and potentially first female president. So is knowing that the filing deadlines are quickly closing in, and that he almost certainly has to decide in roughly the next week to make even a seat-of-the-pants campaign possible.

“Calculation sort of sounds crass, but I guess that’s what it is,” said one person who’s spoken to Biden about the prospect of running recently. “The head is further down the road than the heart is.”

And that’s how it’s been for a while.


All of this maneuvering aside, people who are close to the process are surprised at how undetailed and improvisational the planning remains more than two months after Biden trial-ballooned this campaign via Dowd—a known Clinton antagonist, but who’s also got a history with Biden dating back to being one of the most aggressive people chasing the plagiarism scandal that ran him out of the 1988 race. (Dowd didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Despite the data and the numerous conversations, he’s still not drilling down. Sources close to him agree that Biden is allowing the passing time to make the decision for him, but they disagree on whether the calendar is driving him to a yes or making it easier to say no.

There are lines in politics that shouldn't be crossed, and Biden leaped over this one with ease.  No doubt he is sincerely broken up about his son's death, but to be such a slave to ambition that he would use that death in a calculated political gambit says much about the low character and cynicism of the vice president.

There is no doubt other candidates from both parties would act similarly if the circumstances presented themselves.  Not all, but most would be tempted, and some would succumb.  Pity is a powerful emotion, and cultivating it gives a clear political advantage.  But Biden has manipulated people's emotions for politcal purposes.  Surely these revelations should doom his candidacy.

But they won't.  In fact, Biden will continue to tell the story of his son's dying wish for maximum political effect.  It says something truly awful about the ethical and moral state of our politics that he can get away with it.

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