After just two short months in the White House, President Joe Biden has gone from the most empathetic person in politics to someone whose political instincts leave little room for empathy.
It is one of his most endearing personal qualities that Biden wears his emotions on his sleeve.
The Irishman knows painfully well the lesson of the Emerald Isle — that, sooner or later, life will break your heart. Biden has had his heart broken at least three times — after losing his first wife, Neilia, and their 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, in a terrible car crash the week before Christmas in 1972, and then losing his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.
For the more than 30 years he served in the U.S. Senate, and the eight years he served as vice president, Biden exuded empathy. But, as president, so far, not so much.
You see it with guns. The fact that America suffered through two mass shootings in a week — leaving eight dead in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, and 10 dead in Boulder, Colorado, on March 22 — has gun control advocates hollering for the president to put his muscle behind enacting gun control legislation. It seems like a natural fit, given that Biden — back in the 1990s — helped pass the Brady Bill, which required background checks on most gun purchases and halted sales of some semi-automatic weapons.
In light of that history, it was a tad surreal to see — during his first news conference — Biden swat down a question about how far he was willing to go to prevent additional gun violence.
Insisting that he knows best how to move legislation, the president shrugged it off as “a matter of timing.”
Instead, for Biden, this is the time for a $4 trillion infrastructure bill.
Zzzz. Sorry, I dozed off there for a second.
Biden also seems to think this is not a good time to solve the refugee crisis and treat humanely the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biden is a mixed bag on this issue. He takes one step forward, then two steps back. He unveils a good policy and follows up with a bad one.
Republicans — who now, all of a sudden, care what happens to brown-skinned people who cross the border — blame the flood of refugees on what is supposed to be Biden’s kinder and gentler approach to arrivals.
The GOP missed the target again. The problem isn’t Biden’s compassion; it’s his contradictions. One minute, Biden is telling ABC News’ Cecilia Vega that he won’t apologize for taking in a refugee child at the border rather than “let him starve to death and stay on the other side.” The next, he is coldly informing Vega that the 9-year-old boy she met at the border — whom she identified as “Yossell” and who she said walked here from Honduras — should be “put in a plane and flown back to his mom.”
Brilliant. That would be the same mother who sent her son north with the migrant caravan for his own survival, rather than leave him to the tender mercies of the ruthless gangs that run her country. Sending a child back to that hell might solve Biden’s political problem, but it would only create more problems for the child’s mother back in Honduras.
You would expect better from someone who has seen this movie before. As Biden revealed in the news conference, he headed up — as vice president in 2014 — the response to an earlier border surge. Biden recalled: “President Obama asked me to come and deal, I was in — I was in Turkey at the time, and he said, ‘You got to come home and take care of this.’ So we put together a plan and it had an impact.”
A disastrous impact. The Obama administration bungled its response to the border crisis, in part because it indecisively alternated between three strategies: releasing children to the care of guardians from around the United States; warehousing children in cages and other detention facilities; and flying them back without due process to their home countries, where many of them perished, according to various news accounts.
Now we find out this debacle was all Biden’s doing? Didn’t he learn anything from past mistakes? Apparently not.
Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. There’s a time to be political, to achieve big things and put points on the board. Now is the time to be human.
In times of calamity, Americans want to know their leaders feel what they feel. Bring back Empathetic Joe!
Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of The Washington Post Writers Group.