Over the long weekend, President Biden delivered the commencement address at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. At the very beginning of his remarks, he told the graduating class a story about his own life and his personal tie to their prestigious institution. Here's the relevant clip:
The anecdote garnered some attention among journalists who said they'd never heard it before:
Biden tells a story I’ve never heard before: In 1965, Sen. Caleb Boggs appointed him to the Naval Academy. But he opted to pursue football at the Univ of Delaware instead. Then Biden — who, had he gone to the Academy, would’ve still been on active duty — defeated Boggs in 1972.— Matt Viser (@mviser) May 27, 2022
Perhaps they hadn't heard it before because it wasn't true:
President Biden told graduating midshipmen at the Naval Academy Friday that he applied to the school in 1965 — but a quick check of his biography shows problems with the story. Biden said he applied to Annapolis with a letter from then-Delaware Sen. J. Caleb Boggs, but the year he cited — 1965 — is the same year he graduated from the University of Delaware. The academy doesn’t offer graduate degrees...It’s unclear if Biden has told the story before, but it surprised political journalists who have covered his many campaigns and his presidency. Biden’s 2008 autobiography “Promises to Keep” does not mention the Naval Academy...The US military was heavily involved in the Vietnam War by the mid-1960s and had Biden attended the academy, he would have had to serve in the Navy upon graduation. Biden received five student draft deferments during his four years at the University of Delaware and subsequent three years at Syracuse University College of Law. After Biden graduated law school in 1968, he reportedly was deemed unfit for military service by citing childhood asthma. His memoir doesn’t mention the condition while describing his football exploits or his work as a lifeguard. A report released in November by his doctor also doesn’t mention asthma.
It could be that Biden simply misstated or wrongly recalled the year in question, then used the wrong terminology (that he was "appointed" to the Naval Academy). Asked about apparent discrepancies, the White House Press Secretary said she hadn't seen that portion of the president's comments and promised to look into the matter. It's unclear what part of his tale is accurate, but it's undoubtedly incorrect in at least one or two respects. This obviously isn't the most pressing issue facing the country, but as the Post write-up notes, "Biden has a habit of seeking to relate to his audiences by sharing questionable anecdotes about his personal experiences — as well as making false or exaggerated claims." That's putting it kindly. This president's biographical lies, embellishments and exaggerations are unusual, frequent, and sometimes downright weird. Mind you, I'm not referring to his political fibs like a howler -- called out by NBC News this week -- that he doesn't read the polls. Nor am I referring to his policy lies, like his repeated falsehoods on taxes, or his deadly dishonesty about the Afghanistan withdrawal. I'm not even referring to the serial untruths he stubbornly recites regarding previously-fact-checked claims on hot button issues like gun control.
What we're discussing is a different category of dishonesty, one minor example of which here or there would be human. We all make mistakes, embellish stories, or conflate memories. What makes Biden's biography-related distortions and tall tales unique are their volume and frequency. Take, for instance, Biden's unsubstantiated claims about not one, but two, arrests. Some people might lie by denying they were arrested; Biden has wrongly claimed that he was arrested in contexts that make him seem progressive or heroic. The most egregious example, stated multiple times, blew up in his face:
Joe Biden was not arrested in South Africa while trying to see Nelson Mandela, his campaign has conceded. The US presidential contender had repeatedly said he was arrested during a trip there in the 1970s, when South Africa was under apartheid. But a deputy campaign managers told reporters Mr Biden had been referring to an episode where he was "separated" from black colleagues at an airport. Mr Biden is counting on black support to win South Carolina on Saturday.
The Washington Post looked into the claim and labeled it "ridiculous," awarding Biden 'Four Pinocchios.' They reached the same verdict on Biden's separate claim that he was arrested while marching in for civil rights during his youth. Even Democrat-friendly Politifact rated that assertion "false." On his employment history, Biden has spun multiple stories that are unsupported by evidence. One of several:
Biden says he “really enjoyed teaching” when he was a “professor” at the University of Pennsylvania.— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) March 4, 2022
Biden was paid $1 million, but never taught a single class. pic.twitter.com/vR2xzdOlDe
This one was at least somewhat partially true-ish. Others? Less so:
President Joe Biden went to Dakota County Technical College in Minnesota to tout the benefits of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. Biden toured and met students in the college’s Heavy Duty Truck Technology area, and told them they were part of the next generation of workers to tackle the jobs that lie ahead. He may have come to talk about the future, but as he spoke to a cluster of three people, Biden’s thoughts went back to the past. "I used to drive a tractor trailer, so I know a little bit about driving big trucks," Biden said Nov. 30. The young man next to him said, "Awesome." And Biden continued. "I only did it for part of a summer, but I got my license anyway."
Biden has talked about his truck driving experience before. He brought it up in July 2021 when he toured a Mack Truck facility in Pennsylvania. That time, he qualified his claim that he "used to drive an 18-wheeler," noting he "got to" drive one. That would fall short of being an actual truck driver. Biden said he used to drive a tractor trailer. There is no record that he did, and his comments in the past suggest that at most, he was given the chance to drive one at some point. His reference to a summer job suggests that he was referring to his time as a bus driver, not a truck driver.
President Biden said at a wildfire-focused event in Idaho Monday that his “first job offer” came from the local lumber and wood products business Boise Cascade, but the company says it has “no record” of that being true. Biden, who is known for sharing memories that did not happen, said he regularly mentioned the job offer to his Senate colleague from Idaho, the late Democratic Sen. Frank Church. But Boise Cascade spokeswoman Lisa Tschampl told The Post, “We have no record of President Biden’s application or of him having worked for the company. “ Tschampl said that “we checked our system internally and nothing has turned up.”
Biden also claimed to have visited a house of worship after congregants were attacked by a bigot in 2018. That did not happen:
President Joe Biden claimed Thursday that he spent time at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after the devastating mass shooting there in 2018—but the synagogue's leadership has disputed that claim and said he did not visit. Biden made the remark during a virtual call with Jewish leaders ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday next week. The president raised concerns about antisemitism and hatred toward minority groups, and then mentioned a supposed visit to the Tree of Life synagogue. "I remember spending time at the—you know, going to the—you know, the Tree of Life Synagogue, speaking with the—just—it just is amazing these things are happening—happening in America," the president said...After the president's remarks, Barb Feige, executive director of the Tree of Life, told the New York Post that Biden had not visited the synagogue in the nearly three years since the antisemitic attack took place. Feige reportedly responded with a firm "no," when asked if Biden had visited at any point—even before taking office when he was just the former vice president and later a Democratic presidential candidate.
Biden even appears to have falsified a detail of an incident that was otherwise tragically and undeniably real -- a car accident that killed his then-wife and young daughter. Biden has drawn on this experience of heart-wrenching loss to relate to and comfort other people experiencing grief, which is admirable. But on multiple occasions, he's stated that the truck driver involved in that 1972 accident was drunk, which is not true:
Dunn died in 1999, but his daughter says she’s fed up with Biden publicly mischaracterizing him as having been drunk when the accident occurred. According to Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy, who oversaw the police investigation 36 years ago as chief prosecutor, there is no evidence supporting Biden’s claim...“The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver (Dunn), is incorrect,” Herlihy said recently. Police determined that Biden’s first wife drove into the path of Dunn’s tractor-trailer, possibly because her head was turned and she didn’t see the oncoming truck. Dunn, who overturned his rig while swerving to avoid a collision, ran to the wrecked car and was the first to render assistance. Police filed no charges against Dunn...
This man's family has spent years trying to get Biden to stop smearing their loved one. The more you think about it, the more disturbing it seems. Then there's the plagiarism scandal that helped derail his first presidential campaign in 1988. Biden had 'angrily' denied the allegations before finally admittting to them. And it wasn't just one lapse in judgment, either:
Biden’s downfall began when his aides alerted him to a videotape of the British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, who had run unsuccessfully against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The tape showed Kinnock delivering a powerful speech about his rise from humble roots. Taken by the performance, Biden adapted it for his own stump speech. Biden, after all, was the son of a car salesman, a working-class kid made good. Kinnock’s material fit with the story he was trying to sell. At first Biden would credit Kinnock when he quoted him. But at some point he failed to offer the attribution. Biden maintained that he lapsed only once—at a debate at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 23, when cameras recorded it—but Maureen Dowd of the New York Times reported two incidents of nonattribution, and no one kept track exactly of every time Biden used the Kinnock bit...What is certain is that Biden didn’t simply borrow the sort of boilerplate that counts as common currency in political discourse—phrases like “fighting for working families.” What he borrowed was Kinnock’s life...
Biden lifted Kinnock’s precise turns of phrase and his sequences of ideas—a degree of plagiarism that would qualify any student for failure, if not expulsion from school. But the even greater sin was to borrow biographical facts from Kinnock that, although true about Kinnock, didn’t apply to Biden. Unlike Kinnock, Biden wasn’t the first person in his family history to attend college, as he asserted; nor were his ancestors coal miners, as he claimed when he used Kinnock’s words.
...Unfortunately for Biden, more revelations of plagiarism followed, distracting him from the Bork hearings. Over the next days, it emerged that Biden had lifted significant portions of speeches from Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. From Kennedy, he took four long sentences in one case and two memorable sentences in another...If that wasn’t bad enough, Biden admitted the next day that while in law school he had received an F for a course because he had plagiarized five pages from a published article in a term paper that he submitted. He admitted as well that he had falsely stated that British Labor official Denis Healey had given him the Kinnock tape. (Healey had denied the claim.) And Biden conceded that he had exaggerated in another matter by stating in a speech some years earlier that he had joined sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie theaters, and was thus actively involved in the civil rights movement.
Those paragraphs are extraordinary. Relatedly, Biden would get very touchy when these issues were raised, bristling at questions about his intelligence. If you haven't seen it before, this clip is just wild. In it, an indignant Biden tells a questioner that he'd put his own IQ up against the stranger's, running through a litany of impressive academic accolades the Senator said he'd earned in his life. Nearly every word of it was false:
Stumbled across this montage from the doomed Biden ‘88 campaign and I’m crying at the McLaughlin Group reactions at the end. pic.twitter.com/A9etqn8J4H— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) May 23, 2022
That point-by-point dismantling of the exaggerations and outright fabrications is bracing, even all these years later. Biden evidently learned nothing from any of this, failing to control his character flaw for the rest of career. He's been rewarded with the vice presidency, then the presidency. He ran as being a refreshing antidote to the previous president's serial falsehoods, but is ability to carry the torch of scrupulous honesty should never have been taken seriously. It seems as though Biden harbors something of a pathological need to 'connect' with his audiences, to the extent that he's willing to concoct stories and "memories" that allow him to ingratiate himself as needed. Added drama, added effect, added personal touches -- even when none of it is true. The other context in which these untruths and evidence-free tales arise is when his temper flares. What a combination. How is it any surprise that his pattern of sloppiness-to-deceit has continued into his Oval Office tenure? He's been doing this sort of thing for his whole life, and none of it ultimately impeded his rise to the very top of America's power structure.
Parting thought: If he'd lied about serving in a war, or about his ethnic heritage, that might have consigned him to the US Senate for life.
UPDATE - I'd forgotten about this one:
President Biden said last week that his house burned down with his wife Jill Biden inside...Speaking on a New Hampshire bridge on Tuesday about his bipartisan infrastructure plan, Biden said, "Without this bridge, as I said earlier, it’s a 10-mile detour just to get to the other side. And I know, having had a house burn down with my wife in it — she got out safely, God willing — that having a significant portion of it burn, I can tell: 10 minutes makes a hell of a difference." Biden has recalled the story before, saying in 2013 that a fire "destroyed a significant portion" of his New Hampshire home. However, a 2004 report from the Associated Press, archived by LexisNexis, said lightning struck the Bidens’ home and started a "small fire that was contained to the kitchen." The report said firefighters got the blaze under control in 20 minutes and that they were able to keep the flames from spreading beyond the kitchen.