Magazine December 22, 2019, Issue

Certified Hogwash Free

Joe Biden arrives for a stop on his ‘No Malarkey!’ campaign bus tour in Emmetsburg, Iowa, December 2, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s leg hairs go blond in the summer, he tells us. We could have gone the rest of our lives without having to think about Biden’s hairy shanks, but there’s no returning to that state of blissful ignorance now. The revelation came in the course of his describing his time as a lifeguard, a halcyon time to which his mind returns while speaking out loud, and he added that small children liked to play with his leg hairs, and that he liked it when little kids jumped in his lap. A while later he was photographed chewing on his wife’s index finger.

Nibbling spousal digits is better than inhaling the follicle aromas of young girls in photo ops, but at least it suggests he has a full-spectrum approach to women’s concerns. He believes we need to listen to women, and see them, and also smell them, touch them, taste them, and maybe propose legislation to remove the tax on women’s razors, because he knows what it’s like to have hair on one’s limbs. Who can tell? But at least it’s a truth from the heart, if you believe the big slogan painted on his campaign bus:

No Malarkey.

This suggests the campaign is underfunded and can only afford focus-group testing left over from the Coolidge years.

The slogan raises the bar — other candidates must now pledge to abjure malarkey, and you certainly expect the fact-checking sites to investigate whatever Joe Biden says for the presence of malarkey. But is it a binary thing? If you utter an untruth in the course of a speech, does the presence of malarkey contaminate the entire discourse, or will the Washington Post give us the malarkey percentage? Example:

“In a recent speech, Joe Biden said claims that he wanted to ban AR-15 rifles were ‘pure, corn-fed, booshwa malarkey.’ He went on to say he was familiar with guns, liked gun owners, and had a childhood friend, Hickory Pete, who could shoot out the ace of spades on a playing card at ten paces with a shotgun. It is difficult to say for certain whether this claim is true, since the entire playing card would be obliterated by a shotgun at that distance. The Washington Post cannot confirm or deny the existence of Hickory Pete, but the assertion of it does not seem to rise to the level of actual malarkey.”

If Biden said a day later that he wanted to ban “fossil fuels and AR-15s, folks, because they’re killing us, and I’m the only guy who’s taken on the NRA, I’ve done it, believe me, ask them, they’ll tell you, brother, they don’t want me in the White House, because they know I’ll do to them what I did to the NRA,” the WaPo would not alter its previous verdict to indicate that malarkey had been retroactively detected.

Some people on Twitter suggested the Biden campaign chose the word because Trump couldn’t figure out anything to rhyme with “malarkey” and thus weaponize the word. As if “Malarkey Joe” weren’t sitting there like a toad on a tree stump, waiting to be picked up, but okay. Don’t dismiss the possibilities!

“I call him ‘Plutarchy Joe,’ because he’s history!”

“You know I’d call him ‘Autarky Joe’ if his policies helped America become economically self-sufficient, but you know they don’t!”

But no, that doesn’t sound Trumpesque. While we’re on the subject of the POTUS: The suggestion that the Biden campaign is bereft of malarkey implies that Trump contains great quantities of the same, but it’s not the sort of word that will persuade the great fabled independent.

“You know,” says the voter in an Iowa coffee shop, “over the years I’ve heard Trump called corrupt, treasonous, autocratic, racist, and xenophobic, but I never thought he was malarkichal. I can forgive a lot of things, up to and including horsefeathers, but malarkey? A man’s got to draw the line.”

Perhaps it’s a word chosen to appeal to Iowans. As we all know, they are plain folk, heartland honest, decent God-fearing sorts who know things like “corn” and “dirt” and all that farmer stuff, right? They sit around reading the Good Book — and we don’t mean the one by Howard Zinn! — while mother darns socks and the kids do math with coal on a shovel, or something. You know: hicks. That’s the sort of word they’d use, but we gotta change it for the sophisticated urban areas.

And so the bus rolls up in an upscale suburb of NYC: “An Absence of Prevarication.”

In D.C.: “No remarks will be expanded upon or revised.”

California: “All Truths Organically Sourced”

Nebraska: “No Huskin’ Shuckin’s”

Malarkey, however, is what people enjoy about Biden. Folksy, fatuous fabulism is his brand. And it’s what politicians do. You suspect Jimmy Carter said “I will never lie to you” just to get the first one out of the way. People enjoy a Biden ramble because it’s a pot aslosh with twaddle, so painting “No Malarkey” on the bus is like hanging a “No Ice Cream” sign on the door of Baskin-Robbins.

You know who’s really crushed by the phrase? Some junior D. congressperson named Bob Malarkey who had dreams of a role in the new administration. He’s probably sitting in a D.C. bar now, drowning his sorrows along with a Republican named Faychgnus.

We’ll see if the word hangs around, or if the campaign doubles down and flies planes over the rallies trailing a banner that reads No Flibberdegibbet Codswallop. Probably not; Joe might look up and start telling a tale about his old friend down at the pool, Cods Wallop. Heck of a guy. Smooth legs, though.

In This Issue

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Elections

Bernie Is Not Normal

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success. Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race ... Read More
Elections

Bernie Is Not Normal

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success. Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race ... Read More
PC Culture

Women Lie Too

Elizabeth Warren says Bernie Sanders once told her that a woman couldn't win the presidency. Bernie Sanders says Elizabeth Warren is lying about the encounter. I have no idea whom to believe. Some notable people on Twitter have wondered if maybe, considering all that happened during the #MeToo movement, ... Read More
PC Culture

Women Lie Too

Elizabeth Warren says Bernie Sanders once told her that a woman couldn't win the presidency. Bernie Sanders says Elizabeth Warren is lying about the encounter. I have no idea whom to believe. Some notable people on Twitter have wondered if maybe, considering all that happened during the #MeToo movement, ... Read More
Media

Our Stupid Times, Etc.

I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest. I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not ... Read More
Media

Our Stupid Times, Etc.

I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest. I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not ... Read More