At first glance, I thought The New York Times had finally written a piece highlighting Joe Biden’s decades-long propensity to lie. Instead, what we got was more of an explanation.
Biden’s “folksiness,” contends The New York Times, “can veer into a personal folklore” with “the factual edges shaved off to make them more powerful for audiences.” (Not to be pedantic, but folklore is a collection of stories and legends shared by a community, not stories and legends concocted by a single person. Those are more appropriately called “fictions.”) The Times expends many words assuring its audience that Donald Trump’s lies were much, much worse than Biden’s largely innocuous folklore.
Maybe, maybe not. Most of the lie counters have been shut down. The Times taps left-wing journalist Eric Alterman as an expert on presidential mendacity to help us out. He argues that Biden – “a good and decent man”– is merely guilty of engaging in the kind of lies “grandfathers” might tell. Biden has a “tendency,” Alterman says, to “stretch the truth up to a point just like virtually every president has done.”
History disputes this contention.
Biden recently veered into some personal folklore, telling Hurricane Ian victims that his family “lost an awful lot of” their home when lightning struck (Last year, he claimed to understand the pain of “having had a house burn down with my wife in it”). Turns out, more than 15 years ago, the Bidens had “a small fire that was contained to the kitchen,” according to contemporary accounts. A few days earlier, Biden assured the victims of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico that he too was basically “raised in the Puerto Rican community at home, politically.” According to the New York Post, in 1970, when Biden was 28, Delaware “had about 2,154 people who were either born in Puerto Rico or descended from Puerto Rican parents,” or roughly 0.39 percent.
Anyway, those kinds of stories perhaps stretch the truth. Biden’s long history shows that his habit of lying is far more pervasive.
Let’s take his contentions on race. While campaigning in Alabama for the presidency in 1987, Biden — then a youthful 45 —bragged that the infamous George Wallace had given him an award for being “one of the outstanding young politicians of America.” Now, it is true Joe Biden spent the mid-1970s being mentored by pro-segregationist senators like James O. Eastland and Herman Talmadge, but there is no record of him getting any award for his work from the infamous racist.
A few years earlier, Biden, whose “soul raged upon seeing the dogs of Bull Connor,” also claimed to have marched in the civil rights movement and participated “in sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie houses” at the age of 17. “Joe Biden,” Joe Biden explained in 1981, at the age of 39, “was a lawyer who did work for the black community, represented the Black Panthers at the time they were burning down my city, was a criminal defense lawyer, and the proponent of public housing in the county that election.” He wasn’t.
In 2014, at the age of 72, Biden was still going on about how he “got involved in desegregating movie theaters.” There is no evidence of it being true. A couple of years ago, Biden told an audience in South Carolina that he “had the great honor of being arrested” on “the streets of Soweto” in South Africa when attempting to meet Nelson Mandela. Also not true. This year, at the age of 79, Biden suggested to black college students in Atlanta that he had been arrested during civil rights protests. All of this was a kind of stolen valor, really.
The chances that Biden participated in sit-ins in 1959 or was defending Blank Panthers in the 1960s or came anywhere near being arrested in the 1990s are about as likely as little Joey seeing gay men kissing on a street corner in working-class Wilmington in 1961 — or for that matter, ever hearing his Baltimore-born, middle-class dad dropping progressive axioms on him about love being love. Zero.
Here is some other stuff “every president” hasn’t done: lie about having attended the University of Syracuse Law School on a “full academic scholarship,” lie about finishing in the “top half” of his class, lie about winning an award for outstanding political science student at the University of Delaware, and lie about finishing with “three degrees.” Evidence suggests that Biden almost surely lied about his superior IQ, as well.
None of this even gets into what is perhaps the most blatant act of plagiarism in national political history. Biden didn’t just pinch an entire speech from one-time British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock – as Maureen Dowd put it at the time, using “phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact”– but he also plagiarized Hubert Humphrey, and John and Robert Kennedy, as well.
These aren’t stories with “the factual edges shaved off.” They were either cynical lies told to gain personal power or the work of a pathological liar. Considering Biden continued his transparent fabulism after his first presidential campaign imploded, the latter seems possible.
Drop a needle on any era of Biden’s 50-year career, and you’re going to hear a greatest hit.
In 2020, Biden was still pretending he had shifted U.S. policy on Bosnia in 1990s. “Look, I’m the guy that started the effort to make sure we took down the guy who was engaged in genocide in the Balkans: Slobodan Milosevic.” In “Promises to Keep,” his 2007 compendium of folklore, Biden contends he personally confronted Milosevic in a secret 1993 meeting, telling the dictator, “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one.” Weirdly, not a single person in the room could corroborate this extraordinary moment, save Biden’s then-chief of staff Ted Kaufman. As the Washington Post gingerly put it in 2008, “Biden Played Less Than Key Role in Bosnia Legislation.” Indeed, he was the ninth co-sponsor of a bill on the issue.
Another Biden story revolves around a Navy captain who allegedly rappelled down a 60-foot ravine in Afghanistan’s Kunar province to save his fellow soldier. Biden was intent on giving this man a medal. When generals warned that going to Afghanistan was too dangerous, Biden brushed off their concerns. “We can lose a vice president,” the president imagined himself saying. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”
It’s difficult to type those words without laughing at his audacity. But there is more.
“God’s truth, my word as a Biden,” the president told an audience 10 years after it didn’t happen. “He stood at attention, I went to pin him, he said: ‘Sir, I don’t want the damn thing. Do not pin it on me sir, please. Do not do that. He died. He died.’” Other than the fact that Biden never visited the Kunar province as vice president and never pinned a silver star on any Navy captain it’s a great story.
On and on it goes.
After an anti-Semite murdered 11 people in 2018, Biden claimed to “remember spending time at the, you know, going to the, you know, the Tree of Life synagogue, speaking with them.” He never went. When speaking about wildfires in Idaho in 2021, Biden claimed his “first job offer” came from a local lumber company in Boise. Boise Cascade says it has no idea what he’s talking about. When speaking to graduating midshipmen at the Naval Academy this year, Biden spun a curiously specific story about how he had been “appointed to the academy in 1965” but opted not to go because it didn’t offer him a football career. Since Annapolis offers no graduate programs, and Biden graduated from the University of Delaware and applied to Syracuse Law School in 1965 – in neither institution did he play any football — it is a dubious tale. Biden had requested five student draft deferments during those years over his asthma – which, much like his stuttering, only appears as needed — it seems odd that he would have chosen a naval career.
Of course, you could write a 1,000-page novel detailing the imaginary life of Joe Biden. And you can discount his unique place among our greatest liars because you prefer his politics. Contra The New York Times’ intimations, however, it’s not normal.