Beau Biden’s tragic death of cancer and Joe Biden’s “Promise Me, Dad”

Joe Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” intermixes the most productive years of Biden’s vice-presidency under Obama, with the tragic loss of his son Beau Biden in 2015 to an aggressive brain tumor.

The book narrative is often out of sequence, starting out on vacation and then shifting to his vice-presidential home near the Naval Observatory, before taking off with competing narratives.

Beau had served as Delaware attorney general, and had been quite supportive of progressive causes, including LGBT marriage equality. The family’s Catholic upbringing did not lead to any personal moralizing on the social issues.

Biden first notice symptoms around 2010, which went away until about 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma. His genetics made the cell type particularly aggressive.  The physicians (including MD Anderson in Houston) tried a novel approach of engineering a live virus that would attach itself to the tumor cells and stimulate an immune response.  In the end, it seemed promising for a while but Biden suddenly deteriorated and died with family present on May 30, 2015.

I had an uncle who apparently died at age 60 of a similar tumor in 1976.  Even with genetic causes, its actual appearance is unpredictable.

Biden discusses his foreign policy work, especially with regard to ISIS, Russia, and Central America. He covers the second Obama term well, a history that took a shocking deadend with the election of Trump. He wrote the book just before we have a real understanding of the Russian “fake news” campaign and of the way Trump would be able to resurrect tribalism within “the proles”.  Biden is quite specific in his account of Putin’s cruelty with rebels in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

He also talks about infrastructure, and his work on improving natural gas lines and other critical infrastructure, some of which he says is made of wood. He does not seem to particularly oppose pipeline developments and on may economic and industrial policies he may have been more conservative than Obama.  But he would have supported aggressive policy on climate change (picture above: damage in Florida keys from hurricane Irma, my visit).

But he also talks about the depth of the financial crisis of 2008, and of the need to make work pay better in relation to capital.

Toward the end, he talks about the sudden decision not to run against Hillary Clinton, and about his reservations about superfund money in the Democratic Party primaries.

Beau’s story also reminds me of the narrative of Lee Atwater, who collapsed at a speech in 1989.

Somehow, I wonder about the “originality” of books by established politicians, who have made their names for themselves before taking up the pen.  Echo Hillary’s book.

Author: Joe Biden (Beau Biden)
Title, Subtitle: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose
publication date 2016
ISBN  1250171679
Publication: Flatiron books, hardcover (airport purchase) also Kindle, 264 pages
Link: official

(Posted: Monday, November 20, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

“Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party”: Why the “progressives” put Dinesh in jail, but now “I’m free!”


Name: Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party
Director, writer:  Dinesh D’Souza, Bruce Schooley
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/9/7
Length 90
Rating NA
Companies: Pure Flix
Link: official

Dinesh D’Souza (along with co-director Bruce Schooley) makes his latest conservative missive “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” entertaining.  “Who are these Democrats?”

He starts off with a concert in Dallas, about to play an adaptation of the Star Spangled Banner. There is a concert pianist, thin and with specs, who looks intentionally made up to look like classical composer-pianist Timo Andres;  you have to look twice to make sure this is mistaken identity.  The performance returns to end the movie, and ends loudly. (Andres likes music pieces to end quietly, a point Dinesh is too sinful to notice.)   And in the epilogue, Dinesh tells his prison English class to vote Republican, and notes he won’t be allowed to vote anymore.

Then Dinesh entertains us by recreating his experience in jail, where he, literally, went “back to the bay”. This must have taken some doing to recreate for a movie;  it’s rather like Reid Ewing’s filming a little libertarian mockumentary “I’m Free” right in the Los Angeles County courthouse (in 2012) – except that Reid is three decades younger and better looking.   Already, Dinesh seems to be having fun with our mental images of much younger, popular and politically edgy male celebrities.


Dinesh got sent to prison for violating a “Campaign Finance Reform” act, by giving too much money to a conservative candidate of his choice, apparently in other people’s names.  There was a time, in 2005, when conservative papers (like The Washington Times) noted that some political bloggers were running afoul of the Campaign Finance Law but it blew over legally (my account of this). Dinesh claims he drew the attention of the fibbies (but not John Grisham’s goons) due to the “success” of his earlier movie “Obama’s America”.

After this autobiographical intro, Dinesh layers his storytelling back to the 1820s, to trace (like for an essay question on an American history final exam) the evil history of the Democratic Party (some will call it “revisionist history”), starting with Andrew Jackson.  That president aggressively expropriated native American lands, leading eventually to the development of the reservation system (and today’s casinos).  I got familiar with this personally while living in Minnesota from 1997-2003.  This part of the film has many well-acted skits, with realistic 19th century settings set up in Tennessee for actual filming. The Republican party emerges to oppose slavery and to treat natives fairly.  In one scene, Davy Crocket (as from Walt Disney’s two films with Fess Parker) argues for natives in one scene (see Aug. 27 – my own recent trip to Cumberland Gap, although settler Daniel Boone is the relevant figure).   The film briefly covers the Civil War and Lincoln Assassination, Ted Turner style (like the 1995 movie “Gettysburg”)  It then goes into how the Democrats sabotaged Reconstruction, and supported the Ku Klux Klan, and the resulting lynchings (which this film re-enacts on camera).  All of this history could go into the late Gode Davis’s still not completed film “American Lynching” (my connection to it ).

Dinesh makes a certain jump in a fuzzy account of how the Democratic Party became “progressive” in the 20th Century.  Actually, he could have hit Woodrow Wilson even harder – as Wilson reinitiated sedition laws to jail those who even criticized the military draft.  The modern Democratic Party is thought to have emerged with FDR and the New Deal.   Dinesh points out that by then the idea of “progressivism” was coming to mean state management of everything.  Democrats actually accepted Mussolini-style fascism at first (bachelors were taxed), and some were enticed by communism and the forced expropriation of Bolshevism. Dinesh traces its reluctant but begrudging support of the Civil Rights movement, where LBJ accepted the Civil Rights Act in 1965 to guarantee the loyalty of the “Negro” vote.  LBJ was a racist under the covers, and often spoke contemptuously of “negros”.

But then the Democratic Party moved on to capture the Labor Movement, with the Daly political machine in Chicago becoming the most notorious prize.

Dinesh finally gets to the history of Hilly and Billy, claiming that they want to steal the whole country, with effectively a four-term presidency.  But this seems to be very little a film about Hillary Clinton.  The most effective part of Dinesh’s narrative is the opening (in jail) and his somewhat revisionist American history.

Dinesh does mention a few things Hillary wants to “give” ordinary working Americans without explaining how to pay for them, like mandatory paid family (or maybe just maternal) leave.

There was a fair audience last night at Regal Ballston Common in Arlington, and one older man actually applauded.

(Published: Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 1 PM)