Biden’s Carelessness is More Than Embarrassing

At the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023, the Republican Party and its titular leader Donald Trump were in meltdown. In addition to poor midterm elections results: the former president was under special counsel investigation for his role in January 6 insurrection and his refusal to turn over classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home; the Trump Organization was fined $1.6 million for tax fraud; the newly-elected Congress opened with the nationally televised chaotic selection of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker; freshman Congressman George Santos’ multiple lies about his background had members of his own party calling for him to resign. By contrast, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party were riding the crest of a wave. The Economist and YouGov showed him with a positive job approval rating of 50 percent among registered voters. Biden and the Democrats could not have asked for a better start to the New Year.

Then came the revelations about the president’s own possession of classified documents in a former office in Washington D.C. and at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. At the same time Biden and the Democrats were preening and pointing to all the Republicans faux pas, the revelations about mishandled classified material in Biden’s possession saw Biden and the Democrats going from offense to defense as fast as my basketball New York Knicks back peddling to defend against the opponent’s fast break after scoring a basket.

The Republicans now have the wind at their back; they are the ones riding the wave. Already prepared to start investigating Hunter Biden with their new majority in the House, Republicans now have open season to hunt Hunter and his father.

There are certainly nuances between the special counsel’s investigation of Trump and the special counsel investigating Biden’s possession of classified documents. There are significant differences. The documents in Biden’s possession, for the moment, are around 25 a “small number;” Trump had in the hundreds. Biden informed the National Archives as soon as the documents were discovered. Trump and his lawyers fought in court to keep the material. (Questions will be raised about why the Biden team didn’t reveal the possession of the documents earlier to the public.)

But the nuances between the Republican’s problems and the Biden Documentgate will get lost. Trump and Biden both are subject to special counsels. Both had important documents where they should not have been. Biden called Trump “totally irresponsible” for his handling of top- secret papers. Hey, Joe: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The nuances will be explained by pundits on liberal stations. So what? The general public will recognize that Biden, like Trump, has been less than professional. Continuing revelations about the number of documents found and their content will only add to the similarities between the two situations.

All of the above are political comments about what has happened in recent months. The Republicans were down; now they’re up. The Democrats were up; now they’re down. Is there something beyond the political calculation going on? A friend often reminds me that there are people who cruise the surface and those who go deep diving. Are we losing something by not deep diving here?

Joe Biden and the Democrats were excoriating Donald Trump for his carelessness in taking top secret documents from the White House and leaving them unattended in the basement of his beach club in Florida. Shame on you Donald. Even more than shame. You can be tried and punished for your “totally irresponsible” behavior.

And now Joe Biden finds himself in a similar situation. Similar types of material were found in his previous office and now turn up at his house in Delaware. Searches have discovered more documents than were originally revealed. (It is, to me, irrelevant that Trump had hundreds of documents while Biden had a dozen in the beginning. That’s not the point. There should be none.)

Biden’s response to all of this has been unsatisfactory, to say the least. After a second batch of classified material was found in Biden’s garage, he responded to a reporter’s question by saying: “…by the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage. Okay?  So, it’s not like they’re sitting out in the street.” Wrong response Joe. While it may not be “totally irresponsible” what you did, what you said is more than tone deaf.

The tone deafness of Biden approaches the tragic. He placed himself and the Democrats above the sleaze of Trump and the Republicans. Carelessness is not sleaze, but it has opened a window that will be played out in years of hearings, years of contention that will absorb time from dealing with other more important issues.

The Republicans have been given an enormous opportunity to make enough noise to drown out their problems. They will minimize Trump’s illegal actions as well as energize people like Representative Jim Jordan, now Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Nuances will be lost. U.S. domestic squabbles will capture front pages while war rages in Ukraine, the Taliban renege on their promises to women, opposition is crushed in Iran, Israel has become an official theocracy, drought causes catastrophic famine in the Sahel, and so on. Minor errors can have enormous consequences and should not be minimized. Biden has not been presidential about the documents. That is much more than embarrassing; it verges on the tragic.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.