Of course, someone could be a competent, effective president even if he or she gives little to charity. Similar analyses of past presidents and presidential candidates reveal only occasional examples of notable generosity. Giving tends to be rather low and often to politically correct causes.
Yet those who most loudly demand that government act to care for the poor should demonstrate the sincerity of their convictions by giving generously with their own money before seeking to conscript the earnings of others. It always is easier to give away other people’s money than one’s own. It certainly is no act of generosity, especially given the political reward expected.
That would seem to be especially important for Joe Biden since his four decades in politics have been unremarkable, with little evidence of strong commitment to principle. This campaign, his main appeal to Democrats was the perception that he was moderate enough to win. The widespread suspicion was that he would do anything necessary to get elected. A demonstrated personal commitment to helping those in need would provide some character evidence for his campaign based on restoring decency and goodness to the U.S. government. A personal commitment also would give credibility to Biden’s advocacy on behalf of substantial increases in social spending.
As it is, tax returns for nearly half of his life in public — 21 of 47 years — suggests a very different Joe Biden. At the very least, he saw no personal responsibility to help meet serious social needs, something traditionally considered important for any believing Catholic. Rather like when the Arkansas Clintons wrote used underwear off their taxes, the Bidens made sure they got the tax benefit from their bountiful $120 given to charity in 1999.
Twice when his giving surged (relatively, anyway), in 2009 and 2017, politics plausibly was a if not the cause. Anomalous was 2013, though 2017 also involved a major increase in income. The test will be what happens if he is elected: does he continue to contribute at his new levels, or will he drop back to the pitiful average evident throughout most of his career?
Whenever Joe Biden speaks of compassion during the coming weeks, it is worth remembering how his willingness to make meaningful contributions of his own money to those most in need is newly arrived. For much of his career he treated the poor as someone else’s problem. That does not bode well for the policies he is likely to pursue if elected president.