What “authenticity” looks like: Does Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere know whereof he speaks?
We can’t answer that.
Maureen Dowd provided zero sources when she started the story of the dying son’s last words. Today, Dovere cites only anonymous sources as he claims to reveal Dowd’s source.
He says her source was the dying man’s father, Joe Biden. Headlines included, this is the way he begins:
DOVERE (10/6/15): Exclusive: Biden himself leaked word of his son's dying wish/Is that what actually happened? We can’t tell you that. But this report creates a Rorschach test concerning what “character” and “authenticity” mean in the unattractive, script-reading minds of America’s upper-end press corps.
The vice president is mourning. He’s also calculating.
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.
If Biden told this story to Dowd, he broke no eternal rule. Nothing in the tablets Moses carried provided any specific direction about this type of conduct.
That said, Dowd’s column placed the current White House campaign within a deeply emotional, melodramatic framework. Especially coming from her, it also created an ugly type of story:
So deeply vile are the Clintons that it was the sainted young man’s last wish that they not return to power! Even as the son “was losing his nouns,” he maintained his Clinton-hatred:
DOWD (8/2/15): When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.Is that what actually happened? We don’t know.
“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.
Did Biden tell the story to Dowd? We don’t know that either. If he did, we don't know how accurately she reproduced what he said.
But when an American White House campaign is placed within that kind of saccharine, weepy emotional framework, the “Creeping Dowdism” of which we were warned (in 1992!) has seized full control of our lives.
Did Biden tell that story to Dowd? If so, a peculiar type of self-praise suffuses every square inch of the story.
He doesn’t give a damn about money? (Translation: He isn’t like the Clintons!)
The country would be better off “with Biden values?” (There’s no one as great as our clan!)
According to Dowd’s column, the paralyzed son who was losing his nouns had one last wish for his country. Did Biden himself really go and tell this story to Dowd?
Presumably, Dovere’s report will trigger further debate and reporting about this episode. Our own judgment is this:
We don’t have any idea who the “good people” are in this mess. We don’t know if Joe Biden is a better person than Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton.
We also don’t especially care. Long ago, we came to understand a basic point: People in politics aren’t our friends. Beyond that, we have no way of finding out what they’re “really like.”
That isn’t the point of political discourse—except to obvious lost souls like Dowd, who wants our discourse to be a succession of silly stories about “authenticity” and “character,” with never-ending snide assessments of those she doesn’t favor.
And now, with moving deathbed tales involving the pol she prefers!
(Obvious side note: We Irish!)
Ever since that column appeared, we’ve felt that Biden was behaving unattractively just by letting this melodrama get so much play in the press. Perhaps his grief has occasioned bad judgment. We don’t gigantically care.
We do care about this:
Ever since that column appeared, the pundit corps has turned it into one of our basic controlling narratives. As always, the pundits have agreed to recite.
Everyone has wept for Joe, who got such a terrible break. We’ve seen no one wonder if there wasn’t something a bit exploitive about this maudlin story, behind which he has been hiding, upon which his rise has been based, whose truth no one can confirm.
Today, in its headline, Politico finally says that Biden has been mourning but that he’s also been “calculating.” Only the people who pose as our press corps could have failed to raise that possibility until now.
On August 2, Dowd told us a story. We’re now told that Biden himself was the source. Consider:
When Dowd wrote her column, she cited no source for her story. Woodward and Bernstein always needed two sources. In that influential column, Dowd had whittled that requirement down to none.
Today, we’re told that Biden was her source. Question: If that’s true, how could Dowd have known that the story he told her was accurate? Also, what made the pundit corps feel so certain that the story was true?
Answer: Our pundit corps doesn’t work on such considerations. Our pundits repeat approved stories, full stop. It's narrative all the way down!
Those Clintons! In this ultimate instance, they were brazenly moving ahead despite the pleas of the dying child. In many ways, this has been Dowd’s ugliest, creepiest, most exploitive story to date.
That said, our “national discourse” persistently runs on this low-IQ fuel. In the case of Dowd, we’ve been willing to tolerate this type of disorder every step of the way.
We simply aren’t a very bright people. Among other things, our ability to follow a lost soul like Dowd explains our devolving status.