Joe Biden has long been adept at talking with a foot in his mouth, so perhaps it’s no surprise lately he has overdosed on whoppers. Nevertheless, it has unnerved many Democrats to hear their 2020 front-runner oscillate so frequently between fact and fiction.

Which prompts me to wonder: Is a serial gaffer the best possible candidate to challenge a serial liar? Or is Donald Trump so uniquely horrific - Peter Wehner, a former aide to three Republican presidents, calls him “pathologically dishonest” - that he has basically lowered the bar for Biden?

Biden has been on a tear, and not in a particularly good way. In August, he said that Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in “the late 1970s.” Actually, they were assassinated in 1968. He lamented the recent mass shootings in “Houston” and “Michigan” - which took place in El Paso and Dayton. He said that he met with students of the Parkland shootings while he was vice president, but the shootings took place in 2018, long after Trump was elected. A few weeks ago, he thought he was in Vermont, when in fact he was standing in the critical early-primary state of New Hampshire.

We’re perhaps tempted to chalk those up to the aging process (he’s 76), but in 2008, when he was 11 years younger, he offered this Great Depression history lesson: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television.” Um. When the market crashed in 1929, Herbert Hoover was president. Roosevelt didn’t become president until 1933, and he never went on television. He was dead during the rise of television.

But Biden’s piece de resistance (thus far) happened on Aug. 21, in a New Hampshire meeting hall, when he recalled how he had journeyed to Afghanistan and pinned a medal on a Navy captain who had rappelled down a ravine to fetch the body of comrade killed in combat. The Navy captain had risen back up the ravine, carrying the body on his back. The captain said he didn’t deserve the medal, telling Biden: “Do not pin it on me, sir!” Recalling this story, Biden told his New Hampshire audience: “This is the God’s honest truth. My word as a Biden.”

Well, some fact-checking reporters at the Washington Post scrutinized Biden’s “God’s honest truth,” and found that “almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect... In the space of three minutes, Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.”

Biden has long told variations of this story to a number of audiences.

Sometimes it’s a Navy captain (according to military records, that character is fictitious), sometimes it’s an Army captain (according to military records, ditto), and sometimes the heroic action took place in Iraq, not Afghanistan.

Sometimes the dead soldier was pulled from a ravine, sometimes from a Humvee.

The truth (which should be enough) is that, in 2011, Biden did pin a medal on an Army staff sergeant who’d tried without success to rescue a dead comrade from a burning vehicle in Afghanistan - and who had indeed told Biden that he didn’t deserve the medal. And yet, after The Washington Post parsed his erroneous story-telling, he didn’t seem to understand the problem: “I was making the point how courageous these people are ... What is it that I said wrong?”

Hence the conundrum for Democrats: Has Trump - with his documented 12,000 lies - lowered the bar so that Biden’s falsehoods should be deemed no big deal? That Biden should get a pass because his fictional forays are far more benign?

Biden himself has insisted that he should get a pass, saying last December,”I am a gaffe machine, but my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth.”

Some Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, interviewed recently, don’t care a whit. One woman said Biden’s flubs were fine because “his heart is in the right place and that’s what we need right now.” One guy, asked about Biden’s errors, said, “So what? I do too. He’s human. It makes him real.”

Another woman said, “That’s what makes him likable.” Another guy said, “The gaffes don’t matter because we all mess up, we’re all human.”

If voters like a politician, they’ll give that person plenty of slack. Trump’s cultists prove the point in the extreme, but it’s not a new phenomenon. After all, voters elected Ronald Reagan twice despite his frequent flights of imagination.

Context is everything. If Biden can convince enough people that he’s a comfortable soft landing after four dire years of Trump turbulence, his blarney won’t be a deal-breaker.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at


(18) comments


Trump has lowered the bar on everything, morals, narcissistic behavior, lies, attacks on our allies, I believe the bar is now on the ground.

Dawn King

While we know trump is and always has been everything you say, With almost 3 years in, I don't know if there's anything he could do to weaken his grasp on his base supporters. It's about getting people out to vote that counts.


V - You do realize what you have said is totally irrelevant? There is nothing illegal in “trying” to avoid the draft. Over the years literally millions of men have “tried” to avoid the draft. However in President Clinton’s case he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and obtained a deferment based on it. Now, let’s consider the case of former VP Cheney who had five deferments, four for being a student and one for knocking up his wife. As to actual cheaters look no further than the loser currently in our White House whose Daddy bought him a phony letter from an doctor claiming Donnie had “bone spurs” - that, curiously, did not stop him from playing tennis and other sports.


Bobby your such a Tool-Bag





Overall an interesting column, but as usual factually incorrect. In April of 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president of the United States to appear on television. The setting was the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

And the lying draft dodger has exceeded 13,000 lies since he slithered into our White House - a place he calls a dump.


'lying draft dodger' Slick Willy Clinton.


Oh, gosh, I guess I wasn't clear enough for an ignorant DOT to understand that I was talking about the racist, lying, draft-dodging, coward currently squatting in our White House (a place he calls "a dump). You know the guy who has told more than 13,000 verified lies since he slithered into our White House and tweets state secrets that endanger not only our nation, but our military and intelligence operations. The guy whose daddy - another low-life scum - paid for a phony doctor's excuse about fake bone spurs so - just like every member of his family throughout history - did not have to serve his nation. As to President Clinton he had a valid exemption based on his being a Rhodes Scholar, something no low-life DOT ever received.


You are full of all kinds of BS today. Slick Willy did everything he could to escape the draft. He may have been a Rhodes Scholar, but was dumb as a box of rocks for his infidelity and lying to the public and Congress about it while in office.

Dawn King

Yeah, but Rovr, you must admit that some of the democrats desired far left policies should give any person "praying" to witness the end of Donald Trump in 2020 sleepless nights. I'm talking about sanctuary cities, slave reparations, etc. I cannot profess to know the answers but I do believe that too sharp a shift to the left will be a major problem for the Dems. Hopefully, the paring down of candidates will force them to talk about real policy platforms rather than who's more extreme than the next. The vast majority of voters in this country are moderate in their beliefs and do not want to entirely upend the system. The Dems need a candidate that does not have Clinton's baggage and represents a decent, experienced and steadier alternative to the six-time bankrupted, Spanky bone spurs. Someone that really supports middle class families and jobs above corporate interests and Wall Street. That is all it should take to defeat him, which is all that matters. Who that person could be is not immediately clear to me just yet but I, for one, am not convinced it is Joe Biden. And that gives ME sleepless nights!


I fully agree with you Dawn and, hopefully, as the field is pared down more rational thinking will come about. At least the Democrats will allow primaries, unlike the DOT's who are terrified of anyone running against the lying, racist, draft-dodging coward.


Ms. King I think you should be experiencing “sleepless nights”! How in the world are any of these candidates ever going step back from the extreme positions they are proposing. You have named a few of them that will write opposition ads by themselves! Unless you all have a “Dark Horse” in the closet, I think 2020 will be Fritz Mondale episode II. At least that’s what I’m preying for! I agree with you that the vast majority of voters are center right. As for Hillary, she was and is completely un-like-able, no one wanted her screeching at them for four years! Now, I await Rovr’s assessment of my intellect and confused state of mind and at least one mention of my addiction to “Faux News Channel” Deaton AKA Commander DOT [thumbup][beam]


"praying" - "HwyRovr"


I applaud you for being upfront and honest. Trump may not be the right candidate, but have the Dems actually have someone that can beat him?



Dawn King

VA, I just don't know.....yet. Right now, the Dems are too busy bashing one another than to present any real policy platforms. I wish the republicans had a good alternative, as well! I actually liked a couple of the candidates that ran against spanky in the primaries, but that's water under the bridge at this point.


DK. Wouldn't it be nice to have a discussion about a topic without the hateful comments from a far left liberal all the time. You know who I am referring to.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.