Joe Biden’s career of intellectual dishonesty is one step short of the Aristotelian ideal: It has a beginning (his law-school plagiarism) and a middle (his later campaign-trail plagiarism), but his performance in the recent debate suggests that it is without end. From misrepresenting Paul Ryan’s legislative record to telling bald-faced lies about his own, the vice president offered a master class in the art of deception.
The Iraq War and the expenses associated with it have become politically unpopular; the same is true to a lesser extent of the war in Afghanistan. Biden blasted Ryan for “voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription-drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for [the] very wealthy. I was there. I voted against him.” No, he did no such thing. Biden, as the congressional record shows, voted for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as did the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate. To extend the vice president’s MasterCard metaphor, his signature is right there on the receipt. He did vote against the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, only to support a much more costly entitlement expansion in the form of the Affordable Care Act.
As for the Bush tax cuts, it is true that Biden opposed them in the Senate — right before supporting them as a member of the Obama administration. The Bush tax cuts for those whom Democrats insist on calling “the rich” — families and small businesses with income in excess of $250,000 a year — entailed about $800 billion in forgone revenue, according to government estimates. But the expensive part of the equation is the middle-class tax cuts, which added up to some $2.2 trillion in forgone revenue. The Obama-Biden ticket has consistently supported retaining those tax cuts — i.e., the large majority of the Bush tax cuts Biden says he opposes. Which is to say, Biden opposes the billions in tax cuts but supports the trillions in tax cuts, and therefore judges himself to be frugal.
He also misstated by a factor of five the income threshold at which the Obama administration proposes to increase taxes: “The middle class will pay less and people making a million dollars or more will begin to contribute slightly more.” In fact, the administration proposes to raise taxes on individuals making $200,000 a year or more, not $1 million or more.
It is not uncommon for Joe Biden to be off by a factor of five or more. In the same debate he said that Syria “is five times as large geographically” as Libya, when in fact the opposite is closer to the truth: Libya is nearly ten times as large as Syria geographically. That is a simple misstatement, evidence of nothing more than the fact that Biden’s alleged command of foreign-policy details is not quite so impressive as his admirers imagine. But positively untrue statements about his voting record on the wars and his mendacity regarding taxes are evidence of something else: intentional dishonesty. If we bought into the cartoon version of Biden as a middling buffoon, we might come to a different conclusion, but it is difficult to believe that Biden does not know how he voted on the wars or what his administration’s tax policy is. The man is not senescent — he is a skillful demagogue.
On the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11, Biden defended the administration’s failure to protect U.S. diplomatic personnel by pleading ignorance: “We weren’t told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again.” In fact, the U.S. security chief in Libya repeatedly asked for additional protection, a fact to which he has testified before Congress. The office of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was murdered in the attacks, sent a cable specifically detailing concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. The embassy put together a memo requesting that its security support team not be withdrawn; both the ambassador and the head of that team argued that its absence would make the functioning of the mission impossible. But the team was nonetheless withdrawn. The administration was told, and told again.
Compounding his mendacity, Biden claimed that Ryan had proposed cuts to embassy security budgets. The proposal in question does not even mention embassy security, only a 19 percent total reduction in nondefense discretionary spending. Nobody ever suggested applying that 19 percent evenly across everything from Sesame Street to diplomatic missions in the Middle East, and Biden knows that.
Continuing his fictional tour through Middle East issues, Biden attempted to bolster the Obama administration’s shaky reputation regarding our strategic relationship with Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by pointing out that “the president has met with Bibi a dozen times.” This also is not true, or even close to being true. The president has taken his pro forma meetings with his Israeli counterpart, but by no means a dozen of them.
The vice president was also flatly dishonest in his statement about how the administration’s signature health-care bill affects religious institutions, saying: “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear: No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy, any hospital — none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.” No, it is not. No, it is not.
Neither Catholic Social Services nor Georgetown Hospital nor Mercy Hospital has been exempted from the contraception/abortifacient mandate in the Affordable Care Act. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops put it in a pointed response to Biden: “They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.” The vice president should consult the bishops of the church in which he claims membership about the perils of bearing false witness.
Staying on the subject of health care, Biden also plainly contradicted reality in his assessment of the Medicare cuts included in the ACA: “What we did is we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare. . . . And it extends the life of Medicare to 2024.” No, it doesn’t. The $716 billion in Medicare cuts are part of the dodgy calculus that allows the administration to claim that ACA does not add to the deficit. But that $716 billion cannot be going to support Medicare if it is being used to pay for Obamacare. Either Joe Biden is not telling the truth or the Congressional Budget Office is not telling the truth, not to mention every friendly Democrat who has ever praised Obamacare’s fiscal restraint.
Given the above, we would not wager that Biden is the one who is telling the truth in this instance, or any other.