In the #MeTooMaybe hoopla over the former vice president’s hair-sniffing and hand-slipping and personal space-invading, much cataloguing of Joe Biden’s peccadillos has emerged — for example, in Jonah Goldberg’s new column. It’s a handy summary.
But missed in these lists is a deeply troubling — I guess the right word is “lie.” It is one that Biden contrived — or at least perpetuated — over a deeply painful event: the death of his first wife and daughter. The lie hides in plain sight, amongst all the other oddball anecdotes (like his vowing to use his rosary beads as a choking device), maybe because it is so amazingly brazen, and because of its complete lack of being — here, I guess the right word might be “unnecessary.”
The sad story is 29-year-old senator-elect Biden received the horrible call in December, 1972, that there was an accident in which his wife Neilia and baby daughter Naomi were killed, and his young sons Beau and Hunter severely hurt. Mrs. Biden seems to have driven into a busy intersection, into the path of an oncoming truck. Its driver was Curtis Dunn. Investigators found him blameless. Of no surprise, according to his family, his involvement in the deaths of Mrs. Biden and her daughter weighed on Dunn until his own death in 1999.
It was a heartbreaking story all around, and with officials leaving no doubt of the truck driver’s complete innocence, what was the point of doing or saying anything more than letting Neilia and Naomi Biden rest in peace? As for Joe Biden, the tragedy was so utter that the accident’s circumstances were best left unremarked. Never mind unembellished.
But embellished they became. When exactly, we don’t know. Why? That’s a question the answer to which is unfathomable — or if for political purposes, utterly deplorable. For some reason, the evidence shows, in the early 2000s, Joe Biden began to remark in public that his wife had died at the hands of someone who “allegedly . . . drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch.” That Curtis Dunn “was an errant driver who stopped to drink.” That drunk-driver story spread into news accounts. The Dunn family, who had strong sympathy for Biden, was shocked by the sullying of their now-dead father. They wrote the senator and asked him to stop and reminded him of the exonerating investigation. When that didn’t happen, they went public. Per a 2010 Biden profile in The Atlantic:
For many years, he described the driver of the truck that struck and killed his first wife and their daughter in December 1972 as drunk, which he apparently was not. The tale could hardly be more tragic; why add in a baseless charge? The family of the truck driver has labored to correct the record, but Biden made the reference to drunkenness as recently as 2007, needlessly resurrecting a false and painful accusation.
This is truly disturbing. But by our current standards, hair-sniffing rates condemnation, while the false accusation of an innocent dead man, and the embellishment of a personal tragedy — could the Biden tragedy be more tragic? — are forgotten and/or ignored.
This says so much more about Biden the man than any too-close shoulder grasp ever could. It also says plenty about the contrition junkies who influence America’s news cycle, and, as Jim Geraghty pointed out recently, about the media who for many years had dutifully served as Joe Biden’s reputational bodyguard.