Prior to the presidential election, Joe Biden benefited from the popular wisdom that he is a political centrist and a consensus builder.
These are notions that should already have evaporated less than two months into his presidency. But to hear Biden’s allies tell it, the president is that and so much more. Following Biden’s victory, CNN political analyst David Axelrod delivered one of the more cloying post-election assessments, “Americans looked into Joe Biden’s soul, and liked what they saw.” The night before Biden’s inauguration, CNN political director David Chalian suggested that the lights lining the sides of the National Mall’s reflecting pool were like “extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.” Not to be outdone, the New York Times’s once-conservative columnist David Brooks said of the inaugural speech, “The Biden values are there: humility, vulnerability, compassion, resilience, interdependence, solidarity.” Brooks predicted that Biden “sets the stage for a moral revival.” The presidential speechwriters obviously have been instructed to emphasize these supposed qualities at every opportunity.
Speaking on March 11, Biden related how, when he asked a small-business owner in Philadelphia what she needed, her answer was, simply, “the truth.” Of course, honest Joe promised to deliver it.
But actions speak louder than words. And Biden’s past actions scream dishonesty. In 1987, Biden plagiarized part of a campaign speech from a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of Britain’s Labour Party. The future president even revised his own family history to conform to the speech! Biden also admitted to an earlier incident of plagiarism in law school. Biden claimed that same year that he “went to law school on a full academic scholarship — the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship” and that he “ended up in the top half” of his class. He also said that in college, he was “the outstanding student in the political science department” and “graduated with three degrees.” After the flagrant inaccuracies in his statements were exposed, Biden made this admission on Sept. 22, 1987: “I did not graduate in the top half of my class at law school, and my recollection of this was inaccurate.” He actually graduated 76th out of a class of 85 from the Syracuse College of Law. And in college, Biden received a single B.A. degree.
This is just the start.
While he was a senator, Biden’s untruthfulness was such a joke that congressional staffers began passing around a spoof Biden resume claiming that he was the “inventor of polyurethane and the weedeater” and “Member, Rockettes (1968).” Age appears not to have improved Biden’s cognitive abilities, which is hardly surprising for someone who has had two neurosurgical operations for leaking cerebral aneurysms. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he observed: “When the stock market crashed [in 1929], Franklin Roosevelt got on television” and explained it to the public. In fact, Roosevelt did not become president until 1933, and his first appearance on TV was six years later.
Since that gaffe, Biden, who is now 78, has for years fumbled and bumbled frequently in his public remarks. His then-boss, President Barack Obama, reportedly was none too happy about it. According to the authors of Game Change, Obama asked angrily, “How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?” Obama administration national security official Ben Rhodes wrote in his memoir that Biden “could be something of an unguided missile” in the Situation Room. Biden’s performance during the 2020 presidential campaign was generally lackluster, lethargic, and replete with gaffes and misstatements.
Lately, it has gotten worse. Just last week, Biden forgot not only the name of his own defense secretary, but also the name of the building where the secretary’s office is located (the Pentagon).
I expect to see increasing debility in Biden, perhaps accompanied by the sort of cover-up of his infirmity by his intimates and staff that marked the last two years of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. That would be the ultimate irony from the politician who promised us nothing but “the truth.”
Henry Miller is a physician and molecular biologist. He was the Robert Wesson Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.