Joe Biden, cheapskate
From the Scrapbook.
Sep 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 02
At Least He Gives of Himself
THE SCRAPBOOK's heart goes out to Joe Biden. He's about to be raked over the coals by the media for his level of charitable giving, just as Dick Cheney was eight years ago.
Cheney, you may recall, was criticized for being "meager" and less than generous with his gifts. Over a 10-year period, the Cheneys had donated an average of just 2.14 percent of their income to charity. Adam "Big Time" Clymer of the New York Times, noting that Cheney was a multimillionaire, asked him at the time, "What do you think is a proper level of giving for someone who has millions of dollars, in terms of percentage?" Cheney replied: "I think that's a choice that individuals have to make in terms of what they want to do with their resources. It's not a policy question. It's a private matter. It's a matter of private choice."
THE SCRAPBOOK agrees. If you will indulge us, we will repeat here what we said in September 2000:
"THE SCRAPBOOK considers it an appalling invasion of privacy, not to mention an invitation to the worst sort of Tartuffery, that we require our political leaders to disclose their charitable giving in their tax forms. But given that we do, last week's anti-Cheney frenzy in the press was amazingly onesided. In our Nexis search, only four of the 162 stories we turned up mentioned the Gores' embarrassing 1997 tax returns, which showed a total of $353 in giving from an income of almost $200,000."
Given how harshly the media judged the Cheneys, you can well imagine what the Bidens are now in for. Because a decade's worth of their tax returns, made public by the Obama-Biden campaign on September 12, showed that they reported giving less than two-tenths of one percent of their income to charity.
As Paul L. Caron noted at the TaxProf Blog (from which we drew the figures for the chart here), "It is jarring that a couple earning over $200,000 per year would give as little as $2 per week to charity. This giving compares very unfavorably to John McCain, whose tax returns show that he gave 27.3%-28.6% of his income to charity in 2006-2007. During the same period, the Obamas' tax returns show that they gave 5.8%-6.1% of their income to charity."
A Biden spokesman pointed out that he and his wife "do volunteer work with military families." And, we would add, Biden has made a gift of himself to his country. Who can put a dollar figure on that? If you're keeping score at home, the Bidens' rate of giving is one-tenth that of the Cheneys. So you can imagine how the reporters are going to dog the senator from Delaware in the coming days. As we go to press, the New York Times hasn't yet turned its big guns on the good ship Biden, but we're sure it's only a matter of time.
Now that Barack Obama has been shown to be vulnerable, THE SCRAPBOOK is ready to dust off one of its favorite political theories: Namely, when Democratic presidential candidates sink in the polls, their supporters undergo a psychic process not unlike Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's famous "five stages of grief."
Kübler-Ross wrote a popular book in the late 1960s called On Death and Dying in which she declared that terminal patients move through five separate emotional experiences-denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance-when they learn that they cannot live. Frankly, we have our doubts about Dr. Kübler-Ross, but we have to admit that there are certain parallels in the politico-journalistic world.
Consider present circumstances. In the two weeks since the Republican National Convention and the emergence of Sarah Palin, John McCain's poll numbers have gone up and Barack Obama's have declined-in some instances, putting McCain ahead of Obama, and still rising. For the media, which have invested so much in Senator Obama, this may not be the equivalent of a death sentence, but it's something like being scheduled for hemorrhoid surgery. Accordingly, our favorite pundits have lately been combining denial with anger, and showing no signs of moving into the bargaining phase.
You need only read two of our favorite Washington Post columnists-Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne Jr.-at random to see what THE SCRAPBOOK means. "Every day, the McCain campaign brays anew with over-the-top indignation at 'the outrageous attacks' on Palin's family," fumes Robinson. "McCain," writes Dionne through clenched teeth, "is running a disgraceful, dishonorable campaign of distraction and diversion." (How dethpicable!)
Readers should bear in mind that, in the world as seen by Robinson, Dionne, and friends, Ronald Reagan won the presidency by hypnotizing the electorate with his acting skills, George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis with the help of Willie Horton and the ACLU, and George W. Bush booby-trapped Al Gore's voting machines and "swift-boated" John Kerry.
The problem is that after Democrats arrive at the depression stage-think the morning after Election Day 2004-they stay there indefinitely, or worse, never emerge from the anger period. And in THE SCRAPBOOK's experience, there is a point at which that anger is directed away from the Republican and straight at the disappointing Democratic candidate. You might call this the sixth stage of Democratic grief: recrimination. This happened to poor Michael Dukakis in 1988, and it certainly explains the furious complaints that John Kerry failed to respond to criticism four years ago.
So THE SCRAPBOOK's advice to Senator Obama is this: Watch your back. You've had an amazing four years of press adulation, Newsweek covers, and emotional tributes to your sacred qualities. But if the polls continue to fall, and your candidacy looks terminal, the fury that turns E.J. Dionne Jr. red in the face may soon be turned against the candidate of hope and change.
A tip of THE SCRAPBOOK homburg to two of our stellar contributors: Peter Steiner, whose wry cartoons have adorned this page for many years; and Stephen Schwartz, whose passionate prose has informed STANDARD readers on subjects as diverse as Arthur Miller and Iranian politics.
Peter has just published his second thriller, L'Assassin (St. Martin's, 288 pp., $24.95), which, like his earlier French Country Murder, features the ex-CIA operative Louis Morgon, who has retired to a quiet village in the French countryside where he finds that all the wine and cheese in the world cannot insulate him from his shadowy past. Stephen's latest is The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (Doubleday, 288 pp., $24.95), a fascinating guide to the mystical side of Islam and a key to understanding a reformed faith that is truly a "religion of peace."
THE SCRAPBOOK, in its customary way, devoured both books in a single sitting, and attests that you'll learn things you didn't know in Stephen Schwartz's The Other Islam and won't soon forget the twists and turns of L'Assassin.