The death of Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau triggered a true sense of national unity, an outpouring of grief rarely seen on such a scale. Biden was not in this context a vice president or a Democrat. He was a father and leader of a sprawling clan, obviously heartbroken by another family tragedy. Whether you knew much about Beau Biden or not, whether you like Joe Biden or not, the decency of both was evident. The president, who can often be stoic and cold, choked back tears and expressed affection and respect his loyal vice president.

One does wonder if this will cause some soul searching. Biden has been the most dogged and loyal of VPs, yet the president rarely expresses his appreciation as he did on Saturday. Too often Obama seems frustrated with, bemused by or even scornful of his gregarious vice president. One would think Obama would repay Biden’s loyalty, if after weathering the initial horror of his son’s passing, Biden decides to run for president. It’s hard to understand, frankly, why he is not and would not be the Democrats’ first choice for president. If anyone has “earned” it, it is Biden.

Hillary Clinton fares horribly in comparison. She and her husband have gotten rich off politics, off the implicit promise of access and favoritism. Never leaving a dollar on the table, they’ve taken money from anyone and everyone. Rules and restraint don’t apply to them; they do as they please.  Biden is not wealthy, nor does he exhibit a hint of entitlement. He still revels in his Scranton, Pa., roots and seems viscerally connected to what used to be the heart and soul of the Democratic Party — the working class, immigrants, minorities and urbanites of all types. She has come to epitomize crony capitalism; he’s very much the friend of the working man and woman.

She is remote; he is anything but. She traded on her husband’s name to get to the Senate and beyond; Biden scrambled and scraped to rise through the ranks, putting in decades in the Senate. She’s a faux populist; he’s a real one. She’s forever trying to figure out what she should be for; he lets us know what he’s thinking at any given moment. If she is abnormally disciplined, he is anything but tight-lipped. Her life and family are a soap opera, the stuff of tabloids; the Bidens are atypical only in their capacity to weather tragedy, exude dignity and exhibit unrestrained affection for one another.

One can’t help but recall two very different scenes. In one, Chelsea Clinton walked across the White House lawn with a parent on each side following the Lewinsky revelations. She was there to put up the front, to signal the Clintons were not about to let scandal sever their political collaboration. In the other, we saw Jill Biden gripping the hands of her grandchildren in support and comfort, the second time she has provided stability and continuity in a family plagued by loss. In the Biden family, the grown-ups are the grown-up ones — responsible, loyal, fearless, protective; in the Clinton clan Bill remains a perpetual adolescent, Hillary the indulged queen bee and Chelsea now the child of privilege. The only thing more dysfunctional than national politics may be the Clintons — and their retinue of hacks, mega-donors, enablers, spinners and sycophantic aides.

Biden has his flaws to be certain, and his goofy demeanor and refusal to stay on script have often been his undoing. But, that said, it remains hard to fathom why the Democrats want Hillary and not this guy? Really?  There is no accounting for taste, I suppose. And certainly identity politics looms large on the left. But still.