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Sunday, December 11, 2016

WASHINGTON — Strange thing passing, but Joe Biden’s river of tears over his son Beau, who passed away on May 30, has turned into political hay. Deep into grief, Biden never sought that; it just so happened that way. You can hear chatter rising for him to jump into the primary fray again.

The path — if taken — is the one less travelled by.

The vice president broke the oldest rule for American men: Don’t show weakness. Men don’t cry. In a cultural shift, men from East to West love Biden more for saying frankly how sad he felt all summer. Sky-high praise has walked with Joe through the valley, as a chorus of pundits sing “Hail to the Chief” to the genial 72-year-old.

Yet praise for Biden now does a disservice to Hillary Clinton, who needs support from her allies. The long wait for Biden to decide “at the end of the summer” should be over.

Biden lives in a stately white house on the Naval Observatory grounds, but still covets the gleaming mansion downtown after 36 years in the Senate and seven years on this job.

Let’s be clear. The loquacious Biden, fondly known as a master of excess, has run for president twice and lost badly. He voted for the Iraq War and botched the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which flew into a furious folly. In the small state of Delaware, voters never punished him, because he’s so darn likeable.

But some are a bit daft about Joe on the most serious matter in the public square.

Howard Kurtz, media critic for Fox News, said Biden’s heart-to-heart about loss with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show was one of the most “remarkable moments” he’d ever seen on television.

Op-ed columnist David Brooks of The New York Times went further: he declared Biden’s revealing session with Colbert, the new host of The Late Show on CBS, is the very reason Biden should run. Brooks switched his position on Biden as a compelling presidential candidate based on a 15-minute conversation. He wrote, “His discussion of his own grief over his son Beau’s death was beautiful and genuine and revealed (his) golden heart. …” No word on his public record.

Brooks said it was a character “formation story” for public service. No, an adult son’s death is an autumnal sign that says it is time to move off the field. (Beau was 46.) It’s a generational passing. The father-son trope is as old as Homeric myth, and I think Homer would agree with me.

Clearly, the clamor is also about the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s “authenticity” — or lack thereof. Clinton puts up a good front and hates to say “sorry.” It took her years to ‘fess up about her Iraq War vote and months to apologize for her private email server.

But here the gender irony cuts deep. Biden’s emotional freedom does not hold true for women in our new age. Hillary Clinton could not speak of mourning a loss so freely without paying a price. If she did, she’d be the weak one, who wasn’t ready for high office. If she has not made herself vulnerable to voters (except for one choked-up moment in New Hampshire in 2008), maybe there’s a reason why.

Noted author Gail Sheehy observed in Politico that Clinton has undergone a shift of her own, with newfound confidence: “For the first time Hillary seems comfortable in her own skin — not just with her age but also with her gender.”

If Brooks seeks a “formation story” for Clinton — which he says she hasn’t presented well — try this.

Clinton belongs to the generation that lived and breathed the civil rights and women’s movements. The fruits of higher education, professional work and social leadership were theirs to claim. She was at the head of that generation, her Wellesley College class commencement speaker, from there going on to break every barrier and attend Yale Law School. She has meaningful ties to the Midwest, South and Northeast. She has prepared every day of her life for this last chance to be president, living in a glass house for all seasons — keeping her zest, mind, and spirit together.

Or something like that.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.

Photo: U.S. vice president Joe Biden speaks on stage at an event to discuss the minimum wage at the Javits Convention Center in New York, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid