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Fifty-three years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This was a bit before my time, but those who do remember often divide the country into “before the shooting” and “after”. This got me thinking about two other untimely deaths that directly impacted this year’s presidential election.

The first, and more recent, was Beau Biden, Delaware’s attorney general and the Vice President’s eldest son. Like President Kennedy, the younger Biden was forty-six, had served his nation in wartime, and considered to have much more life in him when he was struck down. His passing deeply affected his father who, driven at least partially by grief (and by word from President Obama that he favored Hillary Clinton as his successor), passed on another run for the White House. This was a big loss for the Democrats. Biden represented an important justification for the Democratic party. The Democrats are the party of a larger government that steps in sometimes because bad things can happen to good people. It could be the community ravaged by a hurricane or a victim or child abuse – sometimes life can be terribly unfair, but the government can alleviate a little of that unfairness. Joe Biden, who suffered the loss of his first wife and his daughter in a car crash (that also injured Beau and brother Hunter), was an embodiment of that idea. Meanwhile, the Clintons, while spending almost no time outside of government or the non-profit sector in the past 25 years, somehow managed to leverage their political contacts into a $200 million fortune.  In doing so, they embody something people don’t like about big government – that while in concept, politicians can alleviate life’s unfairness, in reality, they just exaggerate it.

The second was in 1999 – President Kennedy’s son, John. He would have turned fifty-six years old this coming Friday. In some key ways, John Jr. was a more suitable successor than Mrs. Clinton. Like President Obama, he may have inherited his father’s name, but he was more deeply influenced by his mother. His personal life, like Obama’s, was largely scandal-free – no mean feat for a member of his clan. In short, he could have afforded to be a jerk if he wanted to be, but by most accounts, he didn’t act that way.  He was an urban liberal of the “good-government” variety who unlike the 2016 nominee wouldn’t describe the Republicans as his “enemy”.  His Uncle Ted and his sister Caroline were instrumental in helping then-Senator Obama’s campaign gain a strong foothold in the 2008 Democratic primary so there may have been the possibility of a family favor returned.  Had he lived, there’s a good chance John Jr. may have run for the governorship in Albany or a Senate seat in Washington, and it’s hard to see him losing. He could have been in a prime position in a primary – an attractive liberal idealist running against the Nixonian will-to-power pragmatist Mrs. Clinton.  I would have liked his odds.  Alas, the caution he displayed in politics and in his publishing career didn’t carry over to his flying.

This does not relieve the Democrats (or the Republicans for that matter) of their responsibility for choosing a poor nominee.  There were still other possibilities who could have made a better race of it.  But I think it is only fair to note that their lineup of contenders was shorthanded.  Tragedy had taken two of their most viable options off the table.

1TF

 

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