The Man Who Wasn’t There

Those things with which we are most familiar are often hardest to see. This is perhaps particularly true of such fraught subjects as politics. There we are every day staring at the same people, reading news stories that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, and what do we know?

Our situation is similar to Alice’s in Through the Looking Glass when she finds herself in a shop that seemed full of curious things. “[T]he oddest part of it all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold.” 

I feel that way about Joe Biden. Gertrude Stein once quipped of her native Oakland, California, “there is no there there.” Isn’t that how it is with Joe Biden? He doesn’t make gaffes; he is a gaffe, poor thing. (I’ve expatiated on this elsewhere.) 

I suspect that most Americans, whatever side of the political aisle they occupy, do not really see Joe Biden—especially when, like Alice, they are looking directly at him. They need to manage a sidelong glance, a sudden shift of perspective to catch his drift (and I employ the word “drift” advisedly). 

This was brought home to me by an article that appeared a few days ago in Le Figaro, the biggest newspaper in France. The headline summed up its burden: “La stupéfiante indulgence des grands médias américains envers Joe Biden”—“The stupefying indulgence of big American media towards Joe Biden.”

The author evinced no pro-Trump sympathies. On the contrary. Yet he wrote in amazement at the seamless media distortion that worked to disparage Trump while excusing Biden—a process that “va jusqu’à l’occultation des faits”—goes so far (add an expression of amazement) as to conceal the facts. 

Imagine that!

Back in 1987, the revelation that Biden had plagiarized a speech by the British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock destroyed his first foray into presidential politics. I think of Gertrude Stein again: it’s critical, she said, to “know how far to go in going too far.” Biden didn’t. Not only did he appropriate whole passages of Kinnock’s speech, he even repeated the boast-bid-for-sympathy-declaration-of-authenticity that came with the claim of being a miner’s son. Kinnock was. Joe’s dad ran a car dealership. (Joe revisited the miner meme a few years later when he said that he was “a hard coal miner,” a ridiculous claim his campaign explained away as a joke. 

Detractors of President Trump like to say he is an inveterate liar. Usually, what they have called lies are what the rest of us would call exaggerations. But with Joe, the mendacity is something else entirely. 

Back in 2019, before it became clear that Joe was to be the Democratic nominee, even the Washington Post went to town on some of Joe’s whoppers. For example, at a political rally in New Hampshire, Joe said that a four-star general had once asked the then-vice president to travel to Kunar province in Afghanistan to recognize the remarkable heroism of a Navy captain. “We can lose a vice president,” said Joe, bravely. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.” 

It was a good story: the Navy captain had rappelled down a ravine “under fire” and retrieved the body of an American comrade, “carrying him on his back.” Biden was there to pin a Silver Star on the American hero, who demurred.

He said, ‘Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!’ Biden said, his jaw clenched and his voice rising to a shout. ‘Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!’

The room was silent.

This is the God’s truth, Biden had said as he told the story. My word as a Biden.

“My word as a Biden,” indeed. Every single detail of the story is wrong. Biden went to Kunar in 2008, as a senator, not later as vice-president. The chap who made the rescue was a 20-year-old Army specialist, not a captain. And Biden never pinned any sort of medal on him.

The article in Le Figaro notes that the American media has generally covered for Democrats while castigating Republicans. Just think of their worshipful treatment of JFK and demonization of Richard Nixon. (And the love affair with all things Kennedy reached back to JFK’s father—Hitler’s favorite U.S. ambassador—and forward to Teddy “Chappaquiddick” “waitress sandwich” Kennedy and beyond. And of course, the media positively fawned over Barack Obama while snarling endlessly at George W. Bush. 

But there is something different and more extreme about the indulgence lavished upon Joe Biden and the obloquy heaped upon President Trump. Le Figaro quotes Joel Kotkin, an outspoken opponent of Trump’s, who nevertheless acknowledges he has “never seen a president treated the way he was. The effort to remove him was already being considered before he even set foot in the White House!”

Meanwhile, Joe Biden, endeavoring to ingratiate himself with black voters, claims that he was arrested by South African police while attempting to visit Nelson Mandela. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. “Invention,” Figaro notes, “du début à la fin.” 

In brief, the difference in the treatment accorded to Trump and Biden is the difference between a bright daytime and a black night. . . . It amounts to a democratic scandal that is essentially Orwellian.

In one sense, the article in Le Figaro tells us nothing we didn’t already know. And yet it reveals a rift or fissure in The Narrative that is obvious to everyone outside the bubble, outside the echo chamber of American punditocracy. Joe Biden is toast. Already the polls, rigged though most of them are, are tightening. President Trump is calmly stealing the Democrats’ thunder, issuing executive orders on everything from payroll tax cuts to instituting a moratorium on evictions. 

Coronavirus hysteria has, at least for now, prevented the president from deploying his biggest vote-getter, the huge rally. But he has adapted and is outflanking poor Biden on every front. 

The curious thing is that the Democrats do not seem to have twigged to this reality. They are like Alice in that shop of curiosities. They look straight ahead but cannot see what is staring them in the face. They should give CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post a rest. Their “news” comes from the same mendacious cloaca maxima. A glance abroad, even at some Trump-skeptic publications, would disabuse them of their fantasy.

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