" freighted with both dread and grief. "
January 2, 2020 1:24 PM   Subscribe

The Designated Mourner, Fintan O'Toole in the New York Review Of Books - Joe Biden is the most gothic figure in American politics. He is haunted by death, not just by the private tragedies his family has endured, but by a larger and more public sense of loss. Richard Ben Cramer, in his classic account of the 1988 presidential primaries, What It Takes, wrote how even then it was a journalistic cliché to define Biden by the terrible car crash that killed his first wife, Neilia, and their daughter, Naomi (and injured Beau and his brother, Hunter), in 1972, shortly after Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of twenty-nine. Cramer refers to the “type that fell out of the machine every time they used Biden’s name: ‘…whose life was touched by personal tragedy…’ Joe Biden (D-Del., T.B.P.T.).” ... Yet even if those horrible losses had not befallen his family, Biden would have a very public relationship to the dead. He is haunted by the murdered Kennedys. In his campaign speeches he has evoked the image of himself and his sister, Valerie, weeping openly as Robert Kennedy’s funeral train passed by. For the first decades of his political career, his pitch was essentially that these dead men could rise again through him.
posted by the man of twists and turns (5 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I expect if Biden becomes the frontrunner that he will be accused of murdering every single one of the people mentioned (possibly including the Kennedys. e.g. Ted Cruz's dad).
posted by benzenedream at 2:54 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

As someone who carries a legacy of loss in the context of my most intimate communities, this merits my serious attention. I hadn’t ever quite stitched this together. Joe, it’s OK to pull back. It’s even the right thing. Your equation is your equation I guess, and I am unlikely to vote for you, but I have compassion for you along numerous axes.
posted by mwhybark at 5:19 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

...can a politics of grief be adequate to a politics of grievance? Can it deal either with the real grievances of structural inequality or with the toxic self-pity that Trump has both fostered and embodied? Biden’s essential appeal as a candidate for 2020 is that he (not least being older, male, and white) is the only one who can heal a heartbroken and divided America. But he cannot embrace voters one by one. The US cannot be made whole again because it has never been whole.

Pretty much where I come out. There’s a clumsy sentence in there about Biden’s appeal that seems to state the pitch as fact. But context address the matter.

Discussing this with my father, who shares my grief, can be complicated.
posted by mwhybark at 5:36 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Most articles about Biden are heavy on his weaknesses, so I've been really struck by how strongly O'Toole worked to find and emphasize Biden's strengths, both personal and political, and then turn them back around to reveal what's missing. He casts Biden's strengths as the ultimate cause of his weaknesses. It uses his touching not to crack jokes or just to raise the obvious issue of consent, but to ask whether empathy alone, even this admirable force of sincere and moving empathy, is enough to meet the challenges of our time.
posted by zachlipton at 7:19 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

So, Senator since 1972? How is he with the ghosts of all those murdered by the US State in the last, let's say three, decades? Presumably he's haunted by the deaths of all those South Africans caused by the US preventing local licensing of retrovirals etc? Keeps an eye out for drone-murder? Staunchly opposed the Iraq schmozzle?

I'm no Trumpet but he was at least accidentally honest when he went on that "Oh, you think we don't kill people" rant. It didn't play well in the media because so many Americans think their government is not in the business of killing people. I don't know what can be done about those people.
posted by pompomtom at 7:22 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

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