LOS ANGELES, June 1, 2015 — Vice President Joe Biden announced on Saturday the death of his son, Joseph Robinette “Beau” Biden III, age 46, from brain cancer.
It is all parents’ nightmare to see their children predecease them. Joe Biden is living this nightmare for the second time.
At age 29, a beaming senator-elect Joe Biden was about to begin his career on Capitol Hill. Between the election and his swearing-in, a car accident injured his two sons and claimed the lives of his wife and newborn daughter. Biden would eventually remarry, have more children and ascend to the second-highest office in the land.
No amount of success can erase the pain of losing a child. Now, at 74 and approaching the end of his political career, Biden is experiencing it again.
Republicans joined Democrats to offer condolences; Republican moms and dads understand Joe Biden’s loss as painfully as Democrats. The conservative blogosphere lit up with compassion for the Biden family. An overwhelming majority of people totally opposed to the policies and politics of Joseph Biden put partisanship aside to extend human compassion, solace, comfort and love.
Those good feelings will evaporate soon. America is too polarized for the untimely death of Beau Biden to bring us together for long. He is already fading into the background to be forgotten by most of the public at large. Politics as usual today is warfare. Ripping each apart by all means, fair and foul, will be the order of the day as we head into the 2016 election season.
The only way to stop this mutually assured destruction, assuming Americans are decent enough to want to, is for people to walk away from political hate.
This is easy in principle—the concept is at the heart of the religions and philosophies most of us claim to hold dear—but most political animals did not major in self-awareness. They accuse others of hate while being oblivious to the monster staring back at them in the mirror. There is nothing more bipartisan than the quickness to sling baseless accusations at others, motivated more by hatred of an enemy camp than by love of country.
Liberals have the nasty habit of turning policy disputes into personal gutter politics. Republicans who don’t like gay marriage are accused of hating gays. Wanting to stop illegal immigration and secure the borders is racist hatred of Hispanics. Pro-life? War on women. You dislike Obamacare? Racist! You’re concerned about the long-term viability of Social Security? You want grandma to work until she’s 80, then eat dog food and die.
The right returns the hate. Criticism of the military or of American policy abroad is hatred of America. President Obama reverses a Bush policy in Iraq or gives a sloppy salute and he hates America. You want some restrictions on gun ownership? You love tyranny and hate America. You think that too many blacks are killed by the police? Race-baiter!
There are ways to argue policy that don’t involve demonizing the opposition. It isn’t necessary, in the approach of Sidney Blumenthal, to destroy the opposition both personally and professionally.
Obama does not hate America. He loves America for what he wants it to be. Conservatives love it for what it already is and always has been. Conservatives want to preserve what is already strong and good. Obama wants to fundamentally transform America to make it stronger and better.
Like many liberals, Obama admires significant aspects of European social democracies. He wants America to be more like Europe. But Europe is failing. Many liberals see the glamour of Europe without focusing on its many structural weaknesses. This is the debate that has taken place since the 1950s. Conservatives said of America that people should “love it or leave it.” Liberals responded, “change it or lose it.” Liberals frequently offer changes that makes America worse, but that does not mean they want to destroy it or that they hate it.
Liberals need to stop calling conservatives racists, sexists, bigots and homophobes.
Conservatives need to stop equating liberalism with tyranny and treason.
Liberals can start by accepting as genuine the conservative reaction to Beau Biden’s death. There are always haters, but conservatives are heartsick over what Joe Biden is going through. The empathy is real. We do not see a liberal, but a human being, a child of God caught in unimaginable suffering. The sentiments expressed toward the Biden family are as genuine as it gets.
The liberal caricature of conservatives as hateful people is as wrong as wrong can be. Maybe if more on the left saw the right as human beings, the right would not treat the slightest disagreement as a full-out attack. We might stop the cycle of hurting and hurting back, endless vendetta and retribution.
If anything good can come out of the death of Beau Biden, it is the temporary cessation of political hostilities. But there were brief interludes of peace after the Sept. 11 attacks and after the Boston Marathon bombing; soon enough, the warfare resumed.
Disagreement is healthy. The Founding Fathers had vigorous disagreements. What is unhealthy is slandering political opponents and viewing them with hate.
Republicans have extended their hands and hearts to the Biden family. In a better world, the mutual extension of hearts and hands would build a lasting bridge. The politics of personal destruction that flared with the 1987 Robert Bork hearings has to stop.
For those who forget, a certain senator was on the judiciary committee that shattered Bork’s reputation. His name was … no, let’s not go there. Let’s just move forward. The guy is hurting. Wrap your arms around him and hope he and his supporters just once will not smack away the outstretched hands.
May God bless Beau Biden in heaven and his family now and forever.