Get Ready for More of This (Annals of False Equivalency)

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August 29, 2019 9:07 p.m.
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This morning we saw an article from the Post that is typical of what we’ll see really no matter what Democrat gets the presidential nomination. Indeed, we’ll see it again and again. (Read the now-updated story here.) The gist, according to the Post, is that Biden tells a story of military heroism about a young soldier in Afghanistan. But that story never happened. At it’s not even one discrete story. Over the years he’s told it with different details. As the Post explains, the story is actually a pastiche of several different stories, each of which Biden was either directly a part of or heard recounted on one of his trips to Afghanistan or Iraq, or in one case at a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.

The core of the story seems to be an encounter between Biden and Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman. Biden pinned a Bronze Star on Workman on a visit to Afghanistan in 2011 for rushing into a burning vehicle to save a dying friend. By the time Workman got to the friend in the burning vehicle it was too late. “I never pulled him out because he was melting,” Workman told the Post in a recent interview. The hook of the story is that Workman didn’t want the medal. He felt guilty because his friend died. He had failed.

The issue is that, as the Post explains, Biden over time seems to have conflated this with two or three other stories with similar themes of selfless heroism. So part of the story has gotten mixed up with the story of Kyle J. White, who received the Medal of Honor from President Obama in 2014 for a heroic rescue in Afghanistan. And then there are other elements which seem to have come from the story of Spec. Miles Foltz, who Biden met on a trip to Afghanistan in 2008 along with Sens. Kerry and Hagel. Foltz was part of another rescue and had similarly conflicted emotions about the medal he received. Biden was there in Afghanistan when Foltz’s commander, not Biden, pinned a Bronze Star on him. So in different versions the hero is of different ages and rank, even different services. One time Biden told the story he put the incident in Iraq rather than Afghanistan. But the core is the Workman story where the recipient doesn’t want the medal.

Interviewed recently by the Post, Workman remembers the encounter with Biden about as former Vice President relates it: “He has that look where his eyes can see into your eyes,” Workman said. “I felt like he really understood.”

I’ve tried to navigate through all the different stories here as speedily as I can. Because to me, the precise mix of points aren’t really what matter. To get all the details read the Post piece.

On its own it’s a fascinating bit of reporting putting this all together. But the obvious gist of the piece is that Biden, like Trump, has a lying problem, and we have to ask whether he’ll be held to the same standard. The authors note that while Biden claimed in one retelling that he’d been “in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq over 30 times,” his campaign confirmed to the Post that he’d actually only been there 21 times. Zing!

The Post reporters lay out the stakes like this: “One big question facing candidates and voters more than 30 years later is whether President Trump’s routine falsehoods have changed the standards by which other presidential aspirants, including Biden, should be judged.”

But the thing is, over decades Biden has visited all these places dozens of times. He doesn’t seem to have made any of this stuff up. And the stories are not self-aggrandizing. They’re about other people’s bravery and suffering, which, as this article in The New Republic argued earlier this year, is the touchstone of Biden’s whole public career. But to me this isn’t remotely like anything Trump does. And contrary to what some might claim, I really don’t see how this gets in the way of making any case against Trump. Trump is a degenerate malicious liar who does not so much lie as he has a total indifference to the very concept of truth and makes things up routinely to get his own way and degrade his enemies.

What interested me was that Biden was unapologetic. Later in the day, the Post’s Jonathan Capehart interviewed Biden for his podcast and the Post then released this snippet. Biden’s response is basically ‘what’s the problem?’ even ‘what’s your problem?’ His actual key quote is this: “I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost. I don’t know what the problem is. What is it that I said wrong?”

I should emphasize here that it wasn’t Capehart’s article. So he’s just getting Biden’s response. You can listen to the audio here.

I’m curious what you make of it.

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