President Joe Biden was among the dozens of leaders and dignitaries in London on Monday to attend the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II, but his presence has resurrected a rather stark bit of awkwardness he once infused into his own relationship with the late monarch.
You see, President Biden’s mother was an Irishwoman, and an Irishwoman who reportedly harbored a violent hatred for the English — their queen most especially.
“President Biden grew up with a set of lessons that included a maxim from his mother: Don’t kiss the pope’s ring, and don’t bow down to the queen,” The Washington Post reported shortly after the queen’s passing in an article, which has been changed from “For Biden, Queen Elizabeth was a motherly figure” to “Biden says queen ‘defined an era.’ For a proud Irishman, it’s complicated” in the days since.
The Biden family views on the royal family are complicated indeed. You see, President Biden once compared the late queen to his mother — the same mother who vehemently hated Queen Elizabeth, by all accounts.
Last year after visiting with the queen during a trip to the United Kingdom, Biden told reporters, “I don’t think she’d be insulted, but she reminded me of my mother, the look of her and just the generosity.”
Jean, however, as Biden’s mother Catherine Finnegan was known, had a less-than-generous view of Her Majesty.
According to English comedian Georgia Pritchett, who spent some time with Biden in the White House when he was serving in the Obama administration while doing research for the comedy series “Veep,” the late Ms. Finnegan even wrote violently hateful poems about the British crown.
During their visit, Pritchett wrote, Biden abruptly changed the subject from Ukraine to the English, eventually going as far as to fetch his mother’s poetry for her to read.
“He changed the subject to how much his mother hated the English. His parents were Irish, and she had written several poems about her hatred of the English. He went off to find them and returned with hundreds of poems describing how God must smite the English and rain blood on our heads,” she wrote, according to The Guardian.
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Then-Vice President Biden also told Pritchett about the time his mother refused to sleep in a bed that the queen had once slept in.
“She was so appalled that she slept on the floor all night, rather than risk sleeping on a bed that the queen had slept on,” she wrote, adding that she admired anyone who would choose their principles over a comfortable bed for the night.
Yet somehow, Biden actually made the point that he didn’t think the queen would be insulted to be compared to this woman who so loathed the queen she fantasized about God smiting her down.
According to the Independent, Biden was asked this weekend why, exactly, he had made this comparison, to which the president replied that it was “just because of the way she touched when she leaned over. She had that look like ‘are you okay, anything I can do for you, anything you need?’ But also, ‘make sure you do what you’re supposed to do.’”
These are admirable characteristics in any woman, certainly, whether she hates the British crown or wears it.
Yet of all possible things that President Biden could have said to praise Queen Elizabeth upon meeting her, to compare her to a woman who hated her with a passion is perhaps one of the most bizarre — and highly offensive.
There is no doubt that what was once politely referred to as “the Irish question” in polite English society is fraught with emotion and valid criticism of the British crown and its government.
As the son of an Irishwoman, Biden was certainly always going to be in an awkward position when meeting with the now-late queen.
Yet, in classic form, he made it all the more awkward by throwing the two women together in a bizarre comparison, and one can hardly imagine if its more insulting to the queen or to his own mother.
What would Jean Finnegan have thought about her son telling the whole world that she was just like the woman she so loathed, after all?
His kind words and diplomatic presence at the queen’s funeral ring hollow in light of this awkward comparison, at a time when our nation should be honoring our longstanding closeness with our most significant historical ally.