3 October 2019
Bye, bye, Biden?
By J.R. Thomas
Our title this week was pinched (and we hope he will not mind) from Mick Herron’s new spy thriller, the latest in his magnificent Slough House series. But “Joe Country” is just too apposite a title to miss. That country was though [redacted so not to spoil the plot] and Joe Bidens’s is the rather unlikely spot, for an all American working class hero, of Ukraine.
The last time we strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue together, the Shaw Sheet dropped a hint that we were not much fancying Joe’s chances of ending up with the Democrat nomination. Since then events have tumbled over themselves with alarming speed, and although it is very tempting to leave readers with the impression that the Shaw Sheet had some hot inside track on Ukrainian politics as it might affect the family Biden, honesty is all in political commentary. So we confess; what was intended, was to point out the very real dangers of being poll front runner, especially when number two is almost an identical twin, and when the baton must surely and sensibly move to a rising, and probably female, generation. Part of that does look like coming true as Elizabeth Warren’s popularity increases slowly, but, so it seems, remorselessly, in the polls. But, another danger of being front runner is that everybody behind has you in their sights and here the arrows of misfortune, even if fired at President Trump, are winging good old Joe on their way. If they are being fired at Mr Trump at all (this spy story stuff gets to you).
For readers who do not follow the intricacies of American politics, and even those who do and cannot work out what is going on, the following may confuse you further, but is a very brief attempt to better inform. Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter, has had a troubled life, losing when a boy his mother and sister in a car accident in which he was injured. After a difficult adolescence he went into business, not very successfully, and surprisingly ended up in 2014 working in Ukraine for a local gas company on US$50,000 a month. It is not immediately obvious why such a company would employ such an employee, what his duties were, and how well he performed them. But there are lots of executives around the world of whom that might be asked, and in truth some of them are good at what they do, and others not so good. In this particular instance young Mr Biden’s position might have been …um… complicated by the fact that his father was at all relevant times (as mi learned friends say) vice-President of the US, and had special responsibility for Ukraine. And that (it is alleged) that Joe B sought to interfere in Ukrainian jurisprudence on matters to do with his son, or his employer.
Oh dear, you might think, bit embarrassing potentially for Joe, running to be President and all that. So too thought one D Trump, who asked the president of Ukraine, in shorthand terms, if there was any dirt on Hunter, or indeed, his dad. That there was a conversation Mr Trump does not deny, and says that was nothing special or unusual. So the spotlight swings back to Joe, right? No. It stayed firmly on the The Donald, who the Democrats are now accusing of using unfair and improper influence via a foreign power to influence an American election. (Yes, you are right, we have been here before, but last time the allegations were about Russians; and so far that’s what they have remained, allegations.) The Democrats are really cross, or say they are, out comes the impeachment manual again, and most of the Democrat members in the House have said they this time they want impeachment proceedings to begin. And so they are, led by House Leader Nancy Pelosi, though word is she is very wary about the whole thing (Mr Trump of course, just says, bring it on). Now, why would Ms Pelosi be so nervous about the chance to kick the President’s feet away a year before an election?
Three reasons we can think of. First, there is a singular lack of evidence of any wrong doing, just a bit of Trump blundering about, and in such circumstances, although the House might vote for impeachment, the Senate, still safely Republican controlled, will certainly not. Second, Mr Trump won the last election by selling himself as the anti-establishment candidate and here is a wonderful opportunity to show that the Washington swamp is trying once again to bring down the people’s President. That is not to say that there is not a rising mood for impeachment – over 40% of those asked wanted the President on trial – but Ms Pelosi may have noticed some other polls, showing Mr Trump’s support rising. The third reason is one which we commend to Mick Herron for his next book [that’s enough plugs for Mr Herron – Ed] – that the Democrats, or some significant ones, are not firing their arrows at Mr Trump at all (though they would be delighted to scratch him painfully) – they are after Mr Biden, Senior. Donald has been speaking perhaps unwisely in Ukraine, but it does seem that so too has Joe. A lot of mud is going to be flung around if proceedings for impeachment begin, and Mr Biden is going to be in the middle of it. He may well have nothing to hide, but anybody who has ever got into the middle of mud flinging knows the stuff does tend to hang about after.
Mr Biden has already been suffering from the perils of front-running, including accusations of idleness in public office (pretty unfair), wandering hands with pretty girls (also unfair it would seem), not being in touch with modern mores and behaviours (easy one to accuse almost anybody of in these days), and forgetfulness and lack of attention (that one is proving more tricky but it didn’t sink Ronnie Reagan). And now fighting his son’s corner a bit too briskly? Joe has a reputation for being a straight guy, but this is a man who lost his wife and daughter, and elder son, to tragedies; might he have over-stepped for his last remaining son? Most decent people might want to go a long way to forgive him on that one, but when you are running for President, in the lead, and when you are seen as out of touch with the Democrat establishment, how many true friends do you have?
So where does this go next? It is hard to see that Mr Biden will survive, or perhaps even that he will want to. Politics has always been a dirty business, and he may feel that modern politics is dirtier than it has ever been. And Mr Trump, whose first reaction to proposed impeachment was, seemingly, genuine surprise, will not fight nicely. The Democrats could be in the process of handing the President a most useful weapon, and they can’t have much doubt he will use it. That will not spare Joe Biden, and a part of your correspondent can’t help feeling that will be a pity. Such are modern political morals. Alas.