For all his barking and hucksterism, Rudy Giuliani is having limited success drawing the gullible into his sideshow tent. But the fact that Giuliani’s spectacle involving the Biden family is as phony as a horse that does arithmetic does not mean there is no story worth examining. The real story of Joe Biden and his troubled son Hunter is full of pain and littered with questions and deeply relevant to our populist moment.
I claim no intimate knowledge of this story beyond the soul-baring that Hunter performed with reporter Adam Entous of the New Yorker — an airing of family laundry without precedent, that I can recall, in the rollout of a presidential campaign. To that text I add the widely shared experience of an addict in the family, plus several decades spent listening to Americans talk about the people who seek to lead them.
It’s likely you already know the beginning of the story, at least through Joe’s eyes. The high point of his young life, his election to the U.S. Senate, collided fatally with the low point: a car wreck in which his young wife and daughter were killed. Two young sons, Beau and Hunter, survived the wreck — to live with the wreckage. Because let’s be real, folks, as Joe Biden likes to say: The crash took their mother, but in a real sense, that election took their father. I don’t care how many Amtrak trains the ambitious young senator caught to kiss his sons’ foreheads as they drifted off to sleep, or how many rides the boys took on the Capitol Hill subway as Dad worked. Politics is a punishing life for the children involved — presidential politics especially. And Joe Biden has always been running for president.
Beau Biden coped by making himself into a chip off the old block. That left Hunter to find his own lane. As Entous details it, the youngest Biden tried the arts, law, finance, political influence peddling. The consistent themes are booze and cocaine. The profile groans under a litany of failed rehabs.
There’s an old saying about addiction. The man takes a drink (or a sniff), then the drink takes a drink, until the drink takes the man. It will take the bystanders, too, if they let it. Addiction is ravenous. But there was always someone in Joe Biden’s life to help him out with Hunter. It’s heartwarming when family and friends swoop in to care for the boys while Daddy serves the people of Delaware. But little boys have little needs, while big boys have bigger needs.
Soon enough, directionless Hunter has a six-figure job at a bank run by Biden supporters. When Hunter grows bored, there’s another lucrative job under the tutelage of a former Biden staffer. When Hunter wants a house he can’t afford, he receives a loan for 110 percent of the purchase price. And when he goes bust, another friendly banker mops up the damage.