The brief military career of 44-year-old Hunter Biden, Vice President Joseph Biden's younger son, seems to have ended after one month in the naval reserve. Biden is reported to have tested positive for cocaine use, and was immediately discharged. It was "the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy," he has said in a statement, "and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge."
Everybody makes mistakes, of course, and the younger Biden's humiliation must be profound. But it is worth noting that, while Biden's summary discharge occurred last February, it did not become public until the Wall Street Journal revealed the story this week. Biden's statement about "the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy" -- for one month! -- was issued through his lawyer.
Evidently there was an effort, successful for eight months, to conceal this curious episode. But while the attempted cover-up is, perhaps, understandable from Vice President Biden's perspective, the real scandal here is not Hunter Biden's cocaine use, or his father's protection of an errant son, but the fact that Hunter Biden was commissioned in the naval reserve in the first place.
A year-and-a-half ago, Biden was selected for a direct commission in the Navy under a program that allows certain civilians, with no prior military service, to receive a "limited-duty" reserve commission after attending a brief course in military etiquette, drill, and history instead of boot camp. Such commissions are usually offered to non-combatant candidates with special qualifications or particular skills: In 1980, for example, Sen. Gary Hart became a lieutenant commander in the naval reserve at the age of 44.
In Biden's case, however, it is not clear what those qualifications might have been. So far as I can determine, he has had no connection, during his civilian career, either with the Department of Defense or with any defense-related agencies or private institutions. And while he was a public information officer during his brief reserve service, he is a lawyer by profession and a partner in an investment firm, with no background or experience in journalism or public relations.
Biden was also granted two waivers by the Navy, one for advanced age and another for a previous, unspecified "drug-related" incident. A waiver for age is not the worst thing in the world (Biden was eight years over the maximum for the Navy's program) and there are innumerable stories of men eager for combat who couldn't pass an eye test, or were too old to enlist, but somehow contrived to get into uniform. Hunter Biden, however, was evidently not headed into harm's way; and in any case, on September 11, 2001, he was 31 years old, a more appropriate age to sign up to fight. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he sought and obtained a naval commission for political purposes -- public office in his native Delaware? -- and that his status as a son of Vice President Joe Biden did him no harm.
The irony, of course, is that minor political scandals have erupted in the past over such questions. In 2000, the circumstances of George W. Bush's service as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard became a campaign issue. So did the promotion, in 1940, of President Franklin Roosevelt's son Elliott to captain in the Army Air Corps. Abraham Lincoln's eldest son Robert was criticized for his non-combatant status as a staff officer during the Civil War.
A more instructive parallel, however, might be to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, of all people. When one of McCarthy's Senate aides, G. David Schine, was drafted into the Army and sent to basic training at Ft. Monmouth, N.J., Roy Cohn, another McCarthy aide and reputedly Schine's lover, intervened persistently to obtain an officer's commission for Schine. When the Army protested about repeated threats and interference from the senator's office, McCarthy charged that the Army was attempting to retaliate against his investigations into communist subversion in the armed forces. The televised hearings that were held during April-June 1954 to investigate the matter -- the famous Army-McCarthy hearings -- not only revealed that McCarthy and his staff had repeatedly wielded their influence on behalf of Schine, but had done so despite Schine's complete lack of qualifications for an officer's commission.
The differences between Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Biden are self-evident, of course. But just as the effort to make G. David Schine an Army officer taught the country something about Senator McCarthy, so the brief, inglorious naval career of Hunter Biden tells us something about Vice President Biden -- and the culture of entitlement in political Washington that has tarnished the Navy.