It's tempting to dismiss the Right's relentless hammering on the details of Hunter Biden's descent into addiction. Sure, Hunter traded on his father's name. But Hunter Biden is no Billy Carter. He's a graduate of Georgetown and Yale Law School. He was a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the country's top law firms. He taught law at Georgetown. He was a vice president at a financial services firm. He did good deeds, volunteering for the Jesuits as a young man, and serving as chairman of the board of the World Food Program.
It all went so badly out of control. Addiction to drugs, money, self-destruction. Sad, embarrassing, sordid. Understandable, maybe, because the Biden family's losses are so searing: the car accident that killed Joe Biden's wife and daughter and later, the death of Beau Biden, whose brain cancer thought to be the result of his wartime service.
But corruption? Not exactly.
It wasn't a stretch for the smart, good-looking politician's son to serve on corporate boards; clearly, some players wanted an in with his dad. But from his business partner's account, reported by NPR, what Hunter sold was "the illusion of access." That assessment has been borne out by repeated investigations conducted by The New York Times and multiple law enforcement agencies. There is no evidence Joe Biden did anything more than drop by the table where his son was entertaining, shake hands, give one of his twinkly-eyed grins, and move on. There is no evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden profited from any of Hunter's business dealings.
It's nothing, we say. That's how the world works. Hunter's story is sad, it's fucked up, and the fact that he's now selling paintings for mad sums of money is deeply embarrassing but not illegal. We'd like to think it's only political opportunists and demagogues like Marjorie Taylor Greene and the egregious Matt Gaetz, who pretend to care about Hunter Biden's ethics or lack thereof; in Gaetz's case, it's a convenient way to draw attention away from his own peccadillos.
Let's be clear. If we're talking about sex, Hunter hung out with hookers and fellow junkies who sometimes, it appears, watched out for him. Gaetz's romantic companion was a 17-year-old. The U.S. Department of Justice dropped the case against Gaetz earlier this year, reportedly because it was deemed too difficult to prove that Gaetz knew the girl was under 18.
Now Gaetz is standing next to The Donald Himself, calling for armed insurrection, because, hey, he skated on Jan. 6, and the teenagers, so why not brazen it out?
When it comes to Hunter and the schmucks trying to turn his unfortunate predilection for crack into Benghazi (OK, now that you mention it....) sophisticated people, people like us, prefer to look away. I mean, he's one of us, only compared to most of us, he rose higher and fell lower.
That's a mistake, writes Jill Lawrence in The Bulwark. Because many Americans are not tuning out the attacks on Hunter Biden. They get their news from TV, not The New York Times, Axios, or Politico, and here's what they know and "we" don't, according to Lawrence: "...MAGA Inc., the Trump-allied super PAC, is running a new ad on CNN, Fox News, and Newsmax that tries to tie Biden to his son’s business dealings and legal troubles. The opening: 'How come your Justice Department goes after Trump endlessly, yet they cover for your family?'"
The first rule of advertising: If you hear something enough, you start to entertain it as a possibility.
Many of these regular folks are swing voters, and they are now, essentially, America's third party. As American politics have become more fragmented, party affiliation has dropped. Of 168.42 registered voters in 2022, 48 million were Democrats and even fewer, 36.4 million, Republicans. A whopping 35.3 million self-identify as Independent, while 4 million ally themselves with other parties.
These numbers are an antidote to clickbait headlines. When polls show that 54 percent of Republicans support Trump, we're talking, say, 18 million. Not enough to decide an election.
This makes the swing voters - the 35.3 million independents - even more crucial. These are the people who elected Joe Biden. They didn't go to Yale, most of them, they aren't following the fine-grained details of Ukraine foreign policy when Hunter Biden was on Burisma's board. (For the record, his father was actively pursuing the Obama administration's effort to stem corruption, not pressuring President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate his political opponents. That was Trump, you may recall.)
Many of these Independents lean Republican. They care about old-fashioned values, and they need a clear message from the Biden camp on the president's errant son, writes Jill Lawrence. "Denial, dismissal, paternal indulgence, and legalistic analyses aren’t going to cut it in an election like the one we’re facing in 2024."
The 2016 election told us that it doesn't matter what "people like us" think. Lawrence's piece came out August 7. Her prescriptions, including asking Hunter to just say no, please, when he's invited to a big event at the White House, made sense then. On Friday, when Hunter Biden's plea deal fell apart and Merrick Garland appointed a special prosecutor, Lawrence's Bulwark column became essential reading.
Jill Lawrence's prescriptions are short and to the point. We hope folks in the White House are reading, too.
Brian's Unfortunate Son Playlist
The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game ::: The Marvelettes
Fortunate Son ::: Creedence Clearwater
Hunter ::: Portishead
A Family Affair ::: Sly & The Family Stone
Privilege ::: Patti Smith
The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game ::: Grace Jones