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  • Robert Farago

Why Joe Biden Lies About his Past

Cognitive decline, cognitive dissonance or both?

Joe Biden’s career in public service began in 1973, long before there were home video cameras or cell phones recording everything a politician says. Before there was a fast, reliable way to check facts.

Back in the day, Biden told his live audiences stories about himself that created an electable persona.

Here’s what my father said around the dinner table about hard work and persistence. Here’s how I handled the death of my wife and baby daughter. Here’s how I rode the commuter train to Washington, rather than swanning around in a government limo.

Biden’s early stories may have been true, or mostly true, or could have been true. They may also have been outright fabrications – that no one could fact check. In any case, his stories worked.

Flash forward to today. After 50 years telling stories about himself in public, successfully, many of Joe Biden’s stories are being fact-checked and found to have little to no basis in reality.

Have you heard the one about schmoozing with Amtrak conductor Angelo Negri? Or the one about being arrested in South Africa for trying to see Nelson Mandela in prison? Patently false. And many more.

These “fake” stories are neither “gaffes” nor lies. They may have started that way, but the President isn’t intentionally misleading anyone. Except himself.

Joe Biden’s “tall tales” are the result of willful belief. The President wants his stories to be true. He needs them to be true. So he believes them to be true.

From the President’s perspective, whether or not his stories are true isn’t particularly relevant. They make sense. They’re important!

I’m the type of guy who hangs out with a train conductors. I know how to protect the middle class!

I’m the type of guy who gets arrested by South Africa’s apartheid regime. I know how to look out for our African American community!

Biden’s advanced age is the real problem. There’s no denying it: the President’s memory is starting to fail. As his recall becomes hazier, he’s less able to separate fact from oft-repeated, home-spun fiction.

A new paradigm’s kicking-in: what I say is true because I said it before and people believed it. I’m the President of the United States!

Yes he is. With a White House staff ready to explain disprovable anecdotes (e.g., “what the President meant to say…”). This Executive Branch CYA does nothing to inhibit the President’s pernicious practice, and much to perpetuate it.

So what are we to make of Joe Biden’s “lies”?

“If their lips are moving, they’re lying.” Sensible people expect politicians to say one thing and think or do another.

That mistrust is a good thing, not a bad thing. We should always mistrust all politicians. Their stories about their past as well as their promises for the future.

To take any politician’s words at face value, to judge them by their words rather than their deeds, is to be seduced by their stories. The stories they tell us and the stories we tell ourselves about them, because we want to believe.

Contrary to The New York Times’ declaration, democracy doesn’t die in the dark. It drowns in our collective suspension of disbelief.

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