by Susan Estrich
EDITOR’S NOTE: Froma Harrop is on vacation this week. This column by Susan Estrich was provided as a substitution. Her next column will appear on Sept. 7.
President Joe Biden loves his son. That’s the long and short of it. The son’s a first-class mess. Former drug addict. Peddled influence he didn’t have. The laptop. The pictures. The child he denied. The plea deal that collapsed. Now the special counsel will do his business. Can it get any worse?
Sure. He could end up in prison. That would hurt the Bidens. As parents.
It’s not really a political problem. Hunter is not a voting issue. No one is going to vote against Joe because of Hunter. It’s what it takes out of Joe that is painful to watch. It’s a human issue.
Presidents are people, too.
When you have kids who have troubles, it doesn’t matter if you’re president; actually, it makes it worse, far worse. It’s worse for them, obviously, because they’re under the microscope, and it’s worse for parents who love them, whether they have troubles or not.
But Hunter is a special problem both because the Bidens have lived their tragedies so publicly and because every time it seems like it’s almost gotten solved, something new jumps out to make it more complicated.
The Bidens, like the Kennedys, are a family steeped in grief. Joe Biden came to prominence when, as a newly elected young senator, he lost his wife and young daughter in a horrific car accident. Decades later, he faced tragedy again when he lost his son Beau to brain cancer. He has been open about facing tragedy and has shared the experience in a way that has shown his empathy and decency, and underscored his loyalty to his surviving son.
And then there is Hunter. It would be easy for the Bidens to keep him at arm’s length. They have not. He is their son. They have embraced him. He has stayed at the White House. Attended state dinners. Created embarrassing moments.
Families are like that. Most families have a Hunter — someone who lost their way, talked too much, made stupid mistakes. A blowhard for sure. Bad judgment all around. The collapse of the plea deal is just the latest and the biggest hiccup. Hunter doesn’t deserve any favors. He doesn’t deserve any leniency. I don’t know what he did wrong, but he should suffer the same consequences anyone else would for his wrongdoing. He should get whatever he deserves.
And the president?
This is not a test of his presidency. It’s about his role as a parent. And his character. I would never punish a parent for loving his child unconditionally. I would never punish a parent for being too loyal to a child in trouble, never fault a parent for standing by a son in trouble, for trying to help a child who is struggling. If that is the test of the man, then Joe Biden passes the test. It is a matter of character, the character of a parent, and Joe and Jill Biden pass those tests of character with flying colors. Hunter is, in that regard, a very fortunate man.