A new round of a fun game we might be playing for the next 15 months: “Knowing Liar Or Just Old”?
The wrinkle about the game is that “knowing liar” is actually a better outcome for Biden. If the public concludes that he’s deliberately exaggerating the details of some experience he’s had, well, that’s politicians for you.
If, on the other hand, it concludes that he’s too old to keep his memories straight anymore, that’s another reason not to trust him with a four-year term as president.
There’s actually a third option that might explain this WaPo report. Call it the political equivalent of “poetic license.” (“Political license”?) He’s taking major elements from several incidents that did happen and combining them into a single incident that didn’t. Where does that fall on the Joe Biden “BS or fugue state” scale?
The story Biden (usually) tells has to do with a Navy officer rappelling down a ravine under fire in Afghanistan to rescue a wounded comrade, except the comrade ends up dying. Biden shows up to pin a Silver Star on him for his valor but the officer doesn’t want it. He failed in his attempt to save his comrade’s life, after all. Such is his selflessness and his focus on his men’s welfare that he feels he let them down despite putting himself in harm’s way to try to save them.
WaPo investigated. Result: He’s confusing at least two different incidents. One of them happened when Biden was a senator, not VP. It was in Afghanistan, not Iraq, as Biden sometimes claims. There was no Navy captain, rather an Army specialist. He didn’t rappel down a ravine, he climbed a hill. His comrade didn’t perish but survived. It was a Bronze Star he received, not a Silver Star. And he didn’t try to refuse the medal. That was a wholly separate incident from several years later, in 2011, in which an Army staff sergeant attempted to rescue a fellow soldier from a burning vehicle but got there moments too late to save him. Biden did pin a medal as VP on that soldier — a Bronze Star, not a Silver — and the soldier acknowledges that he did tell Biden that he didn’t want it.
So: Political license by Grandpa Joe or is he genuinely confused? Since all the basic elements of the story are true (courageous soldier reluctantly receives medal from Biden for trying but failing to save fallen comrade), is it really a big deal? Note that the staff sergeant, Chad Workman, found his experience with Biden quite moving.
Workman’s company commander told him that the vice president was going to pin a Bronze Star on him for his heroism. “I tried to get out of going,” recalled Workman, who has since been promoted to first sergeant. “I didn’t want that medal.” Nevertheless on Jan. 11, 2011, a cold, gray day, Workman stood at attention as Biden pinned the medal to his chest. The moment is memorialized in a White House photo and in a 2016 interview that Biden did with National Geographic.
Here’s how Biden remembered it: “You see the look on his face — he says, ‘Sir, I don’t want it. I don’t want it. He died. He died.’ ”
Workman’s version is the same, but with one added detail. He recalled Biden meeting his gaze. Workman told the vice president that he didn’t want the medal.
“I know you don’t,” Biden replied softly.
Eight years later, Workman still remembers how Biden looked at him.
“He has that look where his eyes can see into your eyes,” Workman said. “I felt like he really understood.”
Biden being Biden, whenever he tells his own version of this story it’s punctuated with “This is the God’s truth” and “my word as a Biden.” Maybe he thinks he has his facts straight and just doesn’t. Or maybe that’s just a politician’s tic: “Trust me!”
WaPo’s video is more damning than the story. Watch below. Were this an isolated episode, I bet the story wouldn’t even have been written. There’s nothing in it about Biden somehow exaggerating his own courage, as Hillary did in recalling her visit to Bosnia; the worst thing he’s guilty of is deliberately or inadvertently conflating the details of different real-life episodes. But this isn’t an isolated episode, of course — there’s a rolling debate on both the right and the left as to whether he’s “lost a step” over time. It’s another data point for the conversation. The real question is whether this same news story would have been written the same way had WaPo reported it next year, after Biden has been crowned Democratic nominee. At the moment he’s an obstacle to the left’s preferred candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, so WaPo will get no grief from progressives for having dropped this. Do it next year when Biden’s the only thing standing between Trump and a second term, though, and see what happens.