First, let's recall this searing scene, relayed to New York Times readers by columnist Maureen Dowd in August:
When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk. “Of course, honey,” the vice president replied. At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him. My kid’s dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he’s making sure I’m O.K. “Dad, I know you don’t give a damn about money,” Beau told him, dismissing the idea that his father would take some sort of cushy job after the vice presidency to cash in. Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values. Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, “Dad, it’s who you are.”
It's a story of a dying man using the final hours of his life to press his father, on the heartbreaking brink of losing his second child, to seek the presidency. Joe Biden's family tragedy engendered a flood of bipartisan sympathy after Beau passed, and the Vice President's emotional interview with Stephen Colbert elicited strong reviews. Biden's humanity and heartfelt grief was apparent. The commentariat buzzed about Dowd's column, citing the Beau's deathbed wish as an emotional factor that could have a powerful effect on voters if Biden were to jump into the race. Now, with that eventuality looking increasingly likely, we have this -- via Politico:
Joe Biden has been making his 2016 deliberations all about his late son since August. Aug. 1, to be exact — the day renowned Hillary Clinton-critic Maureen Dowd published a column that marked a turning point in the presidential speculation. According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau’s face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because "the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening. But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call. Before that moment and since, Biden has told the Beau story to others. Sometimes details change — the setting, the exact words. The version he gave Dowd delivered the strongest punch to the gut, making the clearest swipe at Clinton by enshrining the idea of a campaign against her in the words of a son so beloved nationally that his advice is now beyond politics...“Calculation sort of sounds crass, but I guess that’s what it is,” said one person who’s recently spoken to Biden about the prospect of running. “The head is further down the road than the heart is.”
Let's stipulate that mourning families ought to be afforded a very wide berth in processing and manifesting their grief. But this exploitive, self-serving episode borders on sociopathic. In his excellent post on this controversy, Allahpundit games out the kindest possible explanation for Biden handing a gift-wrapped, emotionally- and politically-charged nugget to a prominent journalist: "Here’s an innocuous way this could have happened. Dowd, having known Biden for years, might have gotten him on the phone in July just to extend her condolences and they ended up chatting about Beau’s illness and his last days. At some point Biden might have idly relayed the conversation he and Beau had had about him possibly running and Dowd, realizing she’d just been handed the political equivalent of a gold nugget, set about trying to persuade him to let her use it in a column." Click through for AP's convincing reasons to be dubious of that version of events. For what it's worth, Biden's office is angrily and categorically denying the report:
Biden's office says Politico story on Beau is "categorically false and the characterization is offensive"— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) October 6, 2015
So Biden didn't share this story with Dowd? And hasn't repeated it since, with details shifting in various iterations? Or maybe they're contesting the broader implication of the piece -- which would make sense. It looks awful. As you ponder whether or not you believe Team Biden, I'll leave you with a question: Regardless of who planted the original story with Dowd, who leaked this follow-up to Politico? Follow the cui bono principle. Is there a politician on the scene whose conniving ambitions are particularly threatened by a potential Biden presidential run -- so much so that he (or she!) would be willing to peddle brutal oppo involving his son's death? Such a person would have to be fueled by a potent combination of ruthlessness and desperation. Such a person would represent the apotheosis of cynical political calculation, deliberately choosing to expose Biden's alleged sociopathy as a means of safeguarding his or her own unquenchable thirst for power. I can't think of anyone who fits that description, can you?