Over the weekend five years ago, a vice president's son was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home parish, St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville, Del. Although Joseph Robinette "Beau" Biden III had achieved a great deal in his 46 years of life, his friends, admirers, and loved ones couldn't help but mourn the promise of accomplishments that would go unfulfilled.
I wrote about this sad event at the time and I'm doing so again for a reason. We've normalized bad behavior in U.S. politics. On both the left and the right, demonization of those with different political affiliations or policy views has become commonplace. I don't need to cite examples -- spend two minutes on Twitter or watching cable news channels and you'll be reminded.
I was thinking of this over the weekend as Mitt Romney was back in the news, and remembering the things said about him in 2012 by the very Democrats and media commentators who now praise him. In other words, we've devolved to a point in which if someone agrees with you on the civic question of the moment (or has the right letter after their name, an "R" or a "D"), then they are considered moral and courageous. If they don't, they're labeled craven and evil.
Partisan people pretend that such a Manichean worldview is commonplace. This may be a self-fulfilling prophecy because it's becoming more typical with each passing year. That doesn't make it right, or healthy. Nor should anyone pretend that personalizing policy differences is harmless. It's hurtful to have a family member called a racist or a fascist or a communist or a "libtard." And yes, "Sleepy Joe" is pretty benign as these things go, but chanting "Lock her up!" at political rallies four years ago was not.
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Donald Trump's defenders have spent vastly more time on the failings of Joe Biden's second son, Hunter, than on the successes of his older son, Beau. Certainly, Democrats helped bring this on themselves by impeaching the president over a questionable phone call regarding corruption in Ukraine, a country where Hunter Biden was doing sketchy business and where Vice President Biden involved himself in monitoring such practices.
That said, Joe Biden has given his life to public service. So did his first-born child. Five years ago, Beau Biden's love of country, and family, was lauded by eulogists who included two of his siblings and the incumbent president of the United States.
Beau was a National Guardsman who was deployed to Iraq for a year in 2008-09, and a former Delaware attorney general. He eschewed running for his father's Senate seat, in part because that august institution had changed in ways the inclusive and ecumenical scion found unfamiliar from his boyhood days, when he practically grew up in the bosom of the chamber. In other words, Beau Biden was a healer by nature, not a partisan. "He was our protector, our mediator, the captain of our lives," his sister, Ashley, said at the funeral.
"Beau Biden was an original," added President Obama. "He was a good man, a man of character, a man who loved deeply and was loved in return. The cruelty he'd endured in his life didn't make him hard; it made him compassionate, empathetic."
The cruelty the president mentioned was a horrific December 1972 car accident that claimed the life of Joe Biden's first wife, Neilia, and their baby daughter, Naomi. Neilia and Joe Biden's sons, Beau and Hunter, born a year apart, were also in the car and were injured. Hunter Biden told the mourners at the funeral that his earliest memory in life is lying next to his brother in the hospital while Beau, who had not yet turned 4 years old, held his hand and said repeatedly, "I love you."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.