Column on A Mother’s Politics

A Mother’s Politics

Tibor R. Machan

In his heartfelt eulogy for his mother, Jean Biden, Vice President Joe Biden quoted some words from her, very approvingly. These included the idea that "Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you." Furthermore, in his autobiography the vice president recalls something else he learned from his mother: "’Remember Joey,’ she would say… ‘You’re a Biden. Nobody is better than you. You’re not better than anybody else, but nobody is better than you.’"

These may appear to be nice sentiments from a mother who wants to support her son when he is distraught about something, say a bad grade on a test or a loss in a school office campaign or track race. But it looks like the VP considers these far more than that. He appears to think that his mother was advancing a correct political viewpoint, given how he points out also that she was politically quite astute.

So one is then entitled to ask whether these views are really sound, especially given that they appear to be those of a man just a heartbeat from the U.S. presidency. Yes, they are only soundbites but they are packed full with substance and so worthy of a brief scrutiny.

When I was very young, my own mother said to me once that she would love me even if I were a murderer. I recoiled from this with disgust, saying, "How could you? I would then not deserve any love from you at all." I suppose I was already too attached to the value of truth as opposed to pleasant myth. As such myth, my as well as VP Biden’s mother’s sentiments could be palatable. Mothers are supposed to be supportive. But perhaps not at the expense of truth and certainly not once a child has grown up and can think for himself.

The plain enough fact is that being a Machan, in my case, or being a Biden in the VP’s, does not make one as good as everyone else–indeed does not make one anything other than, well, a Machan or a Biden starting out pretty much with a moral blank slate. Surely this is so, as well, with respect to various skills and disciplines of learning in which people differ markedly from one another once they attain the age of reason. As a teacher I need to make this evident to my students day in and out, mostly, of course, to encourage them to improve themselves. If they were already as good as everyone else, what would be the point?

But even more generally, one isn’t normally as good as everyone else. I am sure there are men and women who have made better choices and lived better lives than I have, who have excelled simply as human beings, never mind at some special skill. And I am also quite sure I have made better choices and done better things than quite a few of my fellow human beings. The evidence is all around me for both of these convictions, so to hear the VP say otherwise has to be viewed as a ruse.

Ordinarily it would not be worth anyone’s time to ponder the kinds of remarks made by the late Mrs. Jean Biden, apart from those who were very close to her, loved her dearly and had an emotional stake in paying heed to all her sentiments. But when her son becomes a major player on the American political stage and advances his mother’s emotional outpouring as an earnest political agenda to be pursued by us all, the substance of these outpourings has to be examined and, if need be, criticized good and hard. I would expect no less from folks who paid attention to my views, were I some influential law maker or administrator in this country–indeed, on the world political scene–and made public my embrace of the ideas of my dear mother (who, at 91 and a long life in the midst of European tyrannies, seems to be far more politically astute than Mrs. Biden appears to have been, especially about this business of everyone being like everyone else).

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