Biden's problem - or one of them

If we were in the middle of the general election, I could understand the impulse Democrats have to look the other way on the Biden family’s decades-long habit of cashing in on their connections to Senator Biden. But we’re still four months from the first votes being cast, so there’s plenty of time for voters to think this through. I went through all the reporting that’s been done on Biden and his family over the years, and what’s already public isn’t pretty. My story on that is here, and I’ll paste the top down below. 

Turkish forces are storming into northern Syria right now, intent on subjugating the Kurdish community there. I sometimes get a little bit uncomfortable with the way that the Kurds are so glamorized in Washington, because often the characteristic about them that is celebrated is how “Western” they are -- which is often a euphemism for not-totally-Muslim. But that’s separate from the question of whether they deserve autonomy or, more immediately, the right to survive. Some on the left are framing Trump’s decision to let Turkey plow into Rojava as a victory for non-interventionism. That’s nuts -- it’s a failure of diplomacy. Don’t get it twisted. 

I’m helping with a fundraiser for Dave Dayen, who has left The Intercept and is now executive editor of The American Prospect. If you contribute $50 to the Prospect to support their journalism, you’ll get a signed (and inscribed, if you want) copy of my book. That’s here.

Joe Biden’s Family Has Been Cashing in on His Career for Decades. Democrats Need to Acknowledge That.

While Democrats pursue the impeachment of President Donald Trump for pressuring foreign countries to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, they are left making an argument that is at once true and electorally and ethically compromising: What Trump did — and continues to do — was an impeachable abuse of power, and it should be considered separately from the question of what Hunter Biden did.

The problem for Democrats is that a review of Hunter Biden’s career shows clearly that he, along with Joe Biden’s brother James, has been trading on their family name for decades, cashing in on the implication — and sometimes the explicit argument — that giving money to a member of Joe Biden’s family wins the favor of Joe Biden. Democrats have been loath to give any credibility to the wild rantings of Trump or his bagman Rudy Giuliani, leaving them to sidestep the question of Hunter Biden’s ethics or decision-making, and how much responsibility Joe Biden deserves. Republicans, though, have no such qualms, and have made clear that smearing the Bidens as corrupt will be central to Trump’s reelection campaign. The Trump approach is utterly without shame or irony, with attacks even coming from failson Eric Trump.

Investigative reporters and GOP operatives have dived deep into the question of whether Joe Biden ever used his official power to do favors for special interests shoveling money to his family and found no proof of this. In the case of Ukraine, it’s likely that Biden’s actions as vice president, in demanding the firing of the country’s top prosecutor, did more to hurt his son’s company than anything else. As far as the impeachment inquiry is concerned, that’s an important point: There was no illegal behavior for Trump to hang his desired corruption investigation into Joe Bidenon. His entire goal was to use the power of the American empire to pressure a client state into ginning up bad press for his Democratic rival. Nobody seriously believes that Trump has any serious commitment to eradicating corruption in Ukraine, or any genuine opposition to nepotism. A member of his own family has used the power of the White House to shake down Gulf autocrats for a real-estate bailout, after all.

But that doesn’t mean the Bidens’ behavior isn’t a legitimate problem for Democrats. Indeed, Biden has been taking political hits over of the intersection of his family’s financial dealings and his own political career for some four decades. Yet he has done nothing publicly to inoculate himself from the charge that his career is corruptly enriching his family, and now that is a serious liability. By contrast, one of his opponents in the presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went so far as to refuse to endorse his son Levi Sanders when he ran for Congress, saying that he does not believe in political dynasties. In defending the Biden’s nepotistic relationship, Democrats would be forced to argue that, to be fair, such soft corruption is common among the families of senior-level politicians. But that’s a risky general-election argument in a political moment when voters are no longer willing to accept business-as-usual. For now, Biden’s opponents in the presidential campaign appear to all hope that somebody else will make the argument, while congressional Democrats don’t want to do anything to undermine their impeachment probe. And so Biden skates.