Even my Republican sister is not immune to Joe Biden’s gregarious Irish charm.
She met him at media holiday parties over the years and was so impressed that she got seduced to the other side for a time, voting for the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and writing in Biden’s name for president in 2012. She sent out a Christmas card one year with a picture of herself cheek-to-cheek with Biden – and some of her Republican friends stopped speaking to her.
So I was surprised recently when I discovered my sister writing a letter to president Biden, a plea that she had started in the middle of the night, after mulling over the matter for quite a while.
“I watched as you told the nation that you had six grandchildren and you loved each one of them,” she wrote. “I believe that. What I cannot believe and what I find unconscionable is that you refuse to admit or accept the fact that there is a beautiful little four-year-old girl living in Arkansas by the name of Navy Joan who is your seventh grandchild.”
Peggy wrote about Hunter Biden’s high-priced lawyers going down to Arkansas to make sure Navy could not use the Biden name and to slash child support payments.
“She has the Biden blood running through her veins, and all she is going to have as a reminder of this are some of Hunter’s original paintings; sounds like a lousy trade-off, if you ask me,” Peggy wrote, referring to the agreement that assigned some of Hunter’s artwork to the daughter he has never met, even though DNA testing in 2019 established his paternity.
In his 2021 memoir, Hunter wrote dismissively about Navy’s mother, Lunden Roberts, whom he met when he was spiralling into addiction and going to Washington strip clubs. He wrote that the women he had sexual encounters with during his drug “rampages” were “hardly the dating type”.
“I had no recollection of our encounter,” he said of Roberts. Yet he put her on the payroll of his consulting firm as a personal assistant while she was pregnant. About three months after Navy was born, Hunter took away Roberts’ company health insurance.
“As she grows up, knowing that her father and paternal grandparents wanted nothing to do with her,” Peggy wrote, “she will probably be able to see a video or two showing her half sister Naomi getting married on the South Lawn and you watching the fireworks on the balcony with little Beau. And if she misses that, there will be plenty of schoolmates to remind her that she wasn’t wanted. Kids can be mean that way.”
She asked why Hunter couldn’t act like Tom Brady, who treats his son by Bridget Moynahan, the actress he was dating before he married Gisele Bündchen, the same as the two children he and Gisele had. (Not to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says in a new Netflix documentary series that he has a great relationship with the son he had after a tryst with his family’s housekeeper that broke up his marriage.)
“Mr President, many years ago, you lost your daughter in a horrendous car accident,” Peggy continued. “I know you still carry that pain with you every day because I have watched your face when you speak about her. Please do not throw away your granddaughter.”
My sister and I often disagree about politics, but this is not a political issue to us. It’s a human one. Joe Biden’s mantra has always been that “the absolute most important thing is your family”. It is the heart of his political narrative. Empathy, born of family tragedies, has been his stock-in-trade. Callously scarring Navy’s life, just as it gets started, undercuts that. As Katie Rogers, a Times White House correspondent, wrote in a haunting front-page piece last weekend about Hunter’s unwanted child, Biden is so sensitive “that only the president’s most senior advisers talk to him about his son”. Rogers said that “in strategy meetings in recent years, aides have been told that the Bidens have six, not seven, grandchildren”. Jill Biden dedicated her 2020 children’s book to the six grandchildren.
What the Navy story reveals is how dated and inauthentic the 80-year-old president’s view of family is.
Once you could get away with using terms like “out of wedlock” and pretend that children born outside marriage didn’t exist or were somehow shameful. But now we have become vastly more accepting of nontraditional families. We live in an Ancestry.com world, where people are searching out their birth parents and trying to find relatives they didn’t know they had.
I have sympathy for Hunter going into a “dark, bleak hole,” as he called it. I have sympathy for a father coping with a son who was out of control and who may still be fragile. With Hunter, his father can seem paralysed about the right thing to do.
But the president can’t defend Hunter on all his other messes and draw the line at accepting one little girl. You can’t punish her for something she had no choice about. The Bidens should embrace the life Hunter brought into the world, even if he didn’t consider her mother “the dating type”.
The president’s cold shoulder – and heart – is counter to every message he has sent for decades, and it’s out of sync with the America he wants to continue to lead.
– This article first appeared in the New York Times