For nearly four years, American voters and institutions have been privy to lectures about why we should ignore what the president says and focus instead on what the people around him insist he really meant. Whatever the outcome of this election, that will not change in 2021.
Donald Trump’s penchant for making unsubstantiated claims was on display during Thursday night’s debate. But Democrats must be a little frustrated that their candidate shares this unlovely defect. Joe Biden made a series of dubious, misleading, or outright ponderous statements that are equally worthy of the scorn to which the president is regularly and duly subjected.
“I never said I oppose fracking,” Biden declared as Trump pressed the former vice president on his opposition to the innovative drilling techniques that have made domestically produced natural gas a ubiquitous commodity. “Show the tape, put it on your website,” he demanded. The president’s campaign quickly obliged, highlighting several instances in which Biden pledged to “move away from fracking,” “phase out fossil fuels,” and “make sure” fracking “is eliminated.”
Biden’s newfound support for fracking was, however, betrayed by his decision to reiterate his promise to “transition from the oil industry”—a statement that is apparently only of interest to “conservatives” who, according to Politico, “pummeled” Biden over his comment. And yet, that assertion must have caused some consternation outside conservative circles because the Biden campaign quickly went to work walking back the former vice president’s promise.
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, insisted that the candidate was only talking about rolling back federal subsidies for the industry, not the industry itself. “We’re not going to get rid of fossil fuels,” Biden told reporters after the debate. And as National Review’s Tobias Hoonhout chronicled, the press went right to work massaging Biden’s comments until they resembled something uncontroversial. Of course, the most enlightened political analysts knew to take Joe Biden seriously, not literally.
Surely, it’s also your fault if you were confused by Biden’s claim that “Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under ‘Obamacare.’” Several million people did, in fact, lose their individual health-insurance plans because they did not comport with the Affordable Care Act’s coverage standards. It’s hard to believe Biden simply forgot about that—it was a significant scandal that dominated American headlines for months. What’s more, it was subsequently demonstrated that, even as President Obama and members of his administration were insisting that no one would lose their private plans when Obamacare went into effect, they were preparing for a wave of newly uninsured—a foreseen and, indeed, intended consequence of the law.
On the matter of raising the federal minimum wage, Biden was similarly challenged. “There is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage, businesses go out of business,” he insisted. In fact, the evidence that artificially raising one of a business’s largest operating expenses, labor costs, can lead to small business closures is not hard to find. A study conducted by two university economists and hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research examining restaurant closures in the Bay Area of California found that even a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage made the median 3.5-star restaurant 10 percent more likely to close. If the statistical evidence isn’t convincing, the heart-rending anecdotal evidence that California’s minimum wage hikes (from $10-per-hour in 2017 to $12-per-hour today, increasing to $15-per-hour in 2022) have forced small businesses to close their doors should be.
Indeed, the fact-checking industry itself seems to bend over backward to avoid calling by their rightful name the untruths that Joe Biden issues. Take a CBS News post-debate fact-check of the two candidates: “Biden says ‘we did not separate’ children from their families, and he says the Trump administration did,” CBS reported. “Fact check: True.” And yet, within two paragraphs, the dispatch notes that the Obama administration “only separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, such as when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history.” So, it’s not strictly “true.” It is, at best, “misleading” (a category CBS deployed against Donald Trump) because it lacks mitigating context—the Trump administration wielded family separation as a means of deterring illegal migrants, not just to preserve the safety of minors in American custody or to comport with the 1997 Flores settlement. But that context doesn’t change the fact that Biden’s statement was not “true.”
These more egregious sins were, however, eclipsed by the many statements Biden made that were just perplexing or predicated on dated assumptions.
For example, he claimed that the U.S. trade deficit with China has exploded due to Trump’s heedless protectionism. That is no longer true, and it hasn’t been for years. The U.S. deficit with China fell in 2019 and has been on the decline since.
“And look at the states that are having such a spike in the coronavirus,” Biden declared. “They’re the red states.” That is not the case, and it hasn’t been the case for some time, unless we include Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Minnesota in on the list of Republican-governed states. The notion that Republican governance is a COVID accelerant is both a false and monstrous talking point that the activist left has prudently retired, but Joe Biden apparently never got the memo.
As Donald Trump attempted to defend his efforts to ingratiate himself with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un, Joe Biden burst through the wall with the most bizarre non-sequitur of the night: “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded Europe,” the vice president insisted. “Come on.” That is a bizarre claim. Franklin Roosevelt’s visceral distaste for Hitler, whose “black sorcery appealed to the worst in men,” is well documented. And even before the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, Roosevelt toyed with the idea of backing an Anglo-French blockade of Germany even as Neville Chamberlin pursued peace agreements. And before September 1, 1939, Roosevelt resolved to “encourage” America’s “natural sympathy” toward the anti-Axis powers and committed the U.S. to rearmament. This hardly constitutes warm relations with pre-War Berlin.
Ranging from grandfatherly lapses to outright fabrications, Joe Biden was hardly the portrait of verity on Thursday night. While his opponent was at times equally mendacious, it isn’t hard to find vigorous efforts to fact-check him in print and television media. The same cannot be said for the man who may become the nation’s 46th president.