The Corner

White House

Is the Tide Shifting on Ignoring Politicians’ Well-Connected Idiot Sons?

Hunter Biden (left) and then–Vice President Joe Biden walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2009. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Ryan Grim at The Intercept tells the Democratic party something it doesn’t want to hear. No matter how bad Trump is, no matter how egregious the allegations against the president get, it doesn’t make the fair questions and objections about Hunter Biden and his shady business partners go away.

Indeed, Biden has been taking political hits over of the intersection of his family’s financial dealings and his own political career for some four decades. Yet he has done nothing publicly to inoculate himself from the charge that his career is corruptly enriching his family, and now that is a serious liability. By contrast, one of his opponents in the presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went so far as to refuse to endorse his son Levi Sanders when he ran for Congress, saying that he does not believe in political dynasties. In defending the Biden’s nepotistic relationship, Democrats would be forced to argue that, to be fair, such soft corruption is common among the families of senior-level politicians. But that’s a risky general-election argument in a political moment when voters are no longer willing to accept business-as-usual. For now, Biden’s opponents in the presidential campaign appear to all hope that somebody else will make the argument, while congressional Democrats don’t want to do anything to undermine their impeachment probe. And so Biden skates.

What was going on with Hunter Biden wasn’t all that different from what happened in a lot of families of powerful politicians over the past decades. Back in 2012, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington examined the publicly disclosed financial ties of Congress members and their family members. The group found:

‐82 members (40 Democrats and 42 Republicans) paid family members through their congressional offices, campaign committees, and political action committees;

‐44 members (20 Democrats and 24 Republicans) have family members who lobby or are employed in government affairs;

‐90 members (42 Democrats and 48 Republicans) have paid a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit;

‐20 members (13 Democrats and seven Republicans) used their campaign money to contribute to a family member’s political campaign;

‐14 members (six Democrats and eight Republicans) charged interest on personal loans they made to their own campaigns;

‐38 members (24 Democrats and 14 Republicans) earmarked to a family business, employer, or associated nonprofit.

For a long time, this was a bipartisan form of legal and socially acceptable corruption in politics, and some of us have been grumbling about this for many years. Every elected official seemed to have at least one idiot son who needed and apparently deserved a job that offered considerable compensation with minimal real responsibilities. Having a staff job, a campaign job, a lobbying gig, a campaign, or earmark-supported family business didn’t run afoul of any laws, the House and Senate ethics committees rarely ever looked that hard, and too many lawmakers had similar arrangements for their own idiot sons to get too angry about the other guy’s idiot son.

We know why politicians like having lucrative gigs for their idiot sons. But why would any of the rest of us ever lift a finger to defend it? What are we getting out of these little arrangements? Even at PACs, congressional offices, campaigns, lobbying firms, and so on, the number of well-paying gigs is finite. Every cushy slot set aside for Junior is one fewer job available for some young hungry go-getter who doesn’t come from the right bloodline.

Just because something was seen as a necessary evil or a victimless crime for a long time doesn’t mean it will always be perceived that way. As CNN’s Sarah Isgur observed, “politically astute Democrats who defended Bill Clinton 20 years ago have been smart to change their views in the #MeToo era. Are they about to do the same with Biden around the soft corruption of family ties?”

It could well be that the Democrats who are grumbling about Hunter Biden are doing so mostly out of a desire to see another candidate win the party’s nomination, and there’s no doubt that some of the people screaming loudest about Hunter Biden have never objected to, say, the Kushners attempting to cash in on their connection to the president, or a presidential son-in-law with no foreign policy experience handling sensitive negotiations with the Russians. But maybe all of this can be the start of a new era. Maybe we can stop winking and nodding at family members on the payroll, and those never-plausible claims that lobbying firms, consulting firms, and big companies at home and abroad are hiring officeholders’ children “totally based on merit,” as Burisma Holdings chairman Alan Apter said of Hunter Biden.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More