by Roger Kimball
According to The Washington Post, Donald Trump told 30,573 lies over the course of his four years in office.
CNN nutshelled it with “The 15 most notable lies of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
Of course, people have been calling politicians liars ever since Plato after the sophists for “making the stronger argument appear weaker and the weaker argument appear stronger.”
To a large extent, it’s a purely partisan issue.
You can’t do a credible impersonation of the old Austrian housepainter without also being—or being accused of being—a liar, so all Republicans are also, ex officio, as it were, conspicuous liars.
You might have thought that Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest, and also most genial, presidents since Lincoln.
But his apotheosis only came after he left office.
Candidate and President Reagan were universally excoriated by the left.
He was stupid, a war-monger, and of course, he lied his head off.
“The enduring lies of Ronald Reagan,” read one typical headline, whose story went on to claim that the 40th president of the United States was “a dunce and a fabricator.”
He ended the Cold War without a shot and presided over an economic revival that began the greatest accumulation of wealth in history, but forget about that.
It was a little different with Donald Trump.
It was only later on that panic set in and people began to accuse him in earnest of—well, of many things. Treason through fabricated dealings with Russia, for example, not to mention narcissism, bad character, and, of course, lying.
In fact, a lot of the mendacity that people endeavored to hang around Trump’s neck might better be described as light-hearted boasting, more or less like Cassius Clay (aka Muhammed Ali) proclaiming that “I’m the greatest.”
Now politicians, just like normal humans, often misspeak. Even as smooth a character as Barack Obama tripped up and said that he had been to 57 states.
Sometimes they’re simply mistaken, as former Vice President Dan Quayle was when he told a young student that “potato” ended with the letter “e.” (In fact, it once did, but that didn’t prevent the media from savaging him: He was, after all, a Republican.)
But when we come to Joe Biden, we have entered a whole new realm of epistemic confusion.
There have even been some helpful entertainers who have offered lessons in how to speak Bidenese.
But there’s another dimension to the fantasy land inhabited by the 46th president of the United States that has not been given the recognition it deserves.
Many of Biden’s misstatements are simply incoherent mashups of words, verbal equivalents of a 100-car pile-up on an interstate highway.
It’s even worse when you can understand him.
People disparage Donald Trump as a narcissist.
But can anyone hold a candle to Joe Biden in that department?
It’s as if someone crossed Narcissus with Walter Mitty and produced Joseph R. Biden.
Mitty thought he was taking off from an aircraft carrier in near-hurricane conditions: pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.
Biden thinks that he finished at the top of his class in law school.
In fact, he graduated 76 out of 85.
Biden recently said that “I have flown over every major wild fire in this country with FEMA.” No, he hasn’t.
He told workers at a Mack Truck factory that “I used to drive an 18-wheeler.” Nope.
He said that he had traveled “17,000 miles” through the Himalayas with China’s leader Xi Jinping. No.
A recent White House Tweet claimed that “When President Biden took office, millions were unemployed and there was no vaccine available.” It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to post photos showing Biden actually receiving the vaccine in December and January 2021, when Trump was still president—a vaccine that Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” produced in record time.
Just a few days ago, in his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Biden outdid himself.
He claimed that he had been admitted to the Academy in 1965 but declined to go because future NFL Hall of Fame Roger Staubach blocked his path.
Neither bit is true. Nor is it true, as he went on to say, that he played Varsity Football for the University of Delaware.
Historians may look back on the Biden presidency and credit him with an innovation, at least in the context of America, in the practice of political misrepresentation.
Any politician can lie.
Joe Biden is no slouch in that department, as when he said that if you’re vaccinated you won’t get COVID-19.
But the obbligato of self-aggrandizing fantasy is something new, though not, perhaps, encouraging.
“‘To hell with the handkerchief,’ said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.”
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Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Critical Temper: Interventions from The New Criterion at 40.”
Photo “Joe Biden” by The White House.