Joe Biden somehow under the impression that he was once arrested in South Africa while trying to meet Mandela

With any other politician I’d assume this was a deliberate lie, concocted in bad faith to ingratiate him to black voters in South Carolina.

But with Joe sinking further into senescence by the day, it may be that he really has convinced himself that he was once hauled in by Soweto police.


A third, non-negligible possibility: He’s right and somehow the NYT missed the archival records of his arrest. That’s unlikely, but the “Corn Pop” story being true was also unlikely. And yet.

Here he is in SC on February 11, the same day of the New Hampshire primary. You’ll recall that he ditched NH that afternoon before the votes were counted, knowing how badly he was destined to do, and flew down south in order to remind the media that his “firewall” state was still ahead on the calendar. Watch 45 seconds or so from where the clip below picks up:

Quite a story. Not only did Biden and the U.S. ambassador to the UN(?) get arrested in South Africa while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison, Mandela himself knew enough about the attempt to mention it to Biden when they finally met years later in Washington. “I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me,'” per Biden’s latest retelling of the story a few days ago in Vegas, as quoted by the Times.

Just one problem: No one remembers hearing this story before.

Mr. Biden referred to his own arrest twice more in the next seven days, including at a campaign stop here on Tuesday where he spoke of getting arrested in South Africa between efforts to coax his wife to marry him. That proposal occurred in 1977, both Bidens have said…

Andrew Young, a former congressman and mayor of Atlanta who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1977 to 1979, said that he had traveled with Mr. Biden over the years, including to South Africa. But Mr. Young said that he had never been arrested in South Africa and expressed skepticism that members of Congress would have faced arrest there.

“No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either,” Mr. Young, now 87, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Young added: “Now, people were being arrested in Washington. I don’t think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa.”


The Times looked through news archives trying to find records of the arrest and came up with nothing. They flipped through Biden’s memoir and found no details about an arrest either. In it, he mentions visiting South Africa but only in the context of the timing of his marriage proposal to his wife; somehow a about getting arrested while defying apartheid and trying to visit the future president of the country in prison wasn’t notable enough to include in the book’s final draft.

He also spoke publicly about visiting South Africa after Mandela died in 2013. Via HuffPost:

In a 2013 visit to the South African Embassy in Washington after Mandela’s death, Biden talked about a 1977 visit to the country. He reportedly said he had met with anti-apartheid leaders there but did not get to speak with Mandela, who was serving what would ultimately be 27 years in prison. Biden did not appear to have mentioned being arrested.

The Times claims it contacted his campaign for comment no less than five times, wanting to give him every opportunity to set the record straight in case it had the facts wrong. No reply.

Even weirder:

Yeah, pull up a map and you’ll find Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town in southwest South Africa. Soweto is outside Pretoria in the country’s northeast. Did Joe get arrested trying to board a flight, maybe?


Or is Biden now in the “false memory” stage of decline?

Maybe there’s a middle-ground explanation. Think back to that story last summer of Biden talking about how he once pinned a medal on a soldier in Afghanistan who tried to decline it because the wounded comrade he had valorously attempted to save ended up dying. WaPo investigated and found that Biden had blended details from two different incidents that did indeed happen into a story about a third incident that did not. Whether he did that intentionally or because he had mistakenly jumbled up the two in his mind remains unclear, although in hindsight it seems like an early warning that the 77-year-old Biden might no longer be at the top of his game. But if you think he just got confused in that case, it’s possible that he got confused about this too. Maybe something really did happen to him in South Africa and he’s either shaky on the specifics so many years later or speaking carelessly about what happened.

Instead of being “arrested” in Soweto, is it possible that he was briefly detained and then released because he was a foreign dignitary? That was Bob Kerrey’s theory to the Times. And/or is it possible that he was with the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, not the ambassador to the UN, as he claimed in the clip? In that case, Andrew Young would have good reason not to remember Biden being arrested. And/or is it possible that this happened in Cape Town, not Soweto? It would make perfect sense geographically that someone attempting to visit Mandela would be in the former city. Maybe Biden was there with the U.S. ambassador, tried to book a flight or take a ferry to the island, was stopped by the authorities for fear of a diplomatic incident, and decided to drop it. Somehow, in 2020, when he needs juice for his campaign, that’s become “getting arrested in Soweto with the UN ambassador.”


Or maybe he’s out to lunch. Doesn’t really matter. He’s very likely in the final 10 days of his political career. We’ll forget all about this after Super Tuesday.

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