Politics

Joe Biden Would Be a Better President if He Stopped Saying Things That Aren’t True

“When I took office,” President Joe Biden tweeted Monday, “our economy was on the brink of collapse.”

This statement is false. As the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reported one week after Biden was sworn into office, real Gross Domestic Product in the United States, after increasing by 33.4 percent in the third quarter of 2020, showed a preliminary increase of 4 percent for the last quarter of Donald Trump’s presidency. “After a year in which a pandemic and politics posed challenges unlike the U.S. has seen in generations,” CNBC reported, “the economy closed 2020 in fairly good shape.”

Wall Street hit across-the-board all-time highs on Inauguration Day. Vaccination for COVID-19, seen by many as the critical component to restarting the economy after the first-half recession of 2020, was just then starting to roll out. Analyst forecasts were filled with verbiage like, “we see continued strength in many fundamental leading economic indicators,” and “overall, the economic backdrop looks promising.”

By fabricating a then-imminent economic calamity, Biden could attempt to claim credit for averting it. Neat! But it’s also the kind of political deception you would think that professional journalism, particularly in this age of heightened “moral clarity,” would be sensitively attuned to detect and criticize.

Well, you would be wrong. A Google News search on the phrases “Biden,” “economy,” and “brink of collapse,” produces zero mainstream news articles. There was a similar lack of evident interest when the president made another “brink of collapse” claim this May in Ohio.

Behavior that gets rewarded (or even just unpunished) tends to get repeated. And Biden at this stage in his presidency is repeatedly saying things that aren’t true.

At his big omicron speech and mini-press conference last week, the president, when asked a question about Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.V.), who had just signaled his opposition to Biden’s signature Build Back Better legislation, said, “Joe went on TV today and—I don’t know if it was TV or not; I’m told he was speaking to the liberal caucus in the House and said, ‘Joe Biden didn’t mislead you, I misled you.'”

The White House later had to clarify that, “Senator Manchin did not characterize himself as having been ‘misleading.'”

In the same press conference, when asked the very reasonable question of “What took so long to ramp up testing?”, the president snapped: “Come on, ‘What took so long’?” (That sarcastic rejoinder was edited out of the White House transcript, but the next sentence was not.)  “Well, what took so long is—it didn’t take long at all. What happened was the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought.”

Well, that’s not true, either. As the Washington Post‘s Claire Parker pointed out, “experts had sounded the alarm for more than a year that such a variant could emerge, especially in the vast swaths of the world that remain largely unvaccinated, coming back to bite wealthy countries accused of hoarding doses. Some had repeatedly urged the U.S. government to accelerate the authorization and distribution of rapid tests, pointing to other wealthy nations that have done just that.” Indeed, the White House’s answer to such questions as recently as early December was mockery.

The president telling two whoppers at a pandemic press conference seems like the type of thing that might attract notice from those journalistic quarters specializing in the intersection between media, politics, and truth. And yet here was the next-day headline at CNN’s Reliable Sources: “Biden calls out anti-vax liars for promoting ‘dangerous misinformation.’ But don’t expect anything to change.”

As I argued at the end of my pre-election “Case Against Trump” article, “The first rule of pandemic crisis response is that public officials must be sane, sober, and truthful in communicating with the public.” Trump has many skills, but that’s not one of them. As Jacob Sullum (who wrote the “Case Against Biden” companion piece), has previously observed, “Trump lies routinely, reflexively, and extravagantly, but his supporters do not seem to hold it against him.”

Well, supporters of all politicians at all times, including of President Biden at this time, need to develop more exacting standards. It’s not OK for a pandemic-era political leader to say, as Biden did just two weeks ago, that if you’re vaccinated, you “do not spread the disease to anybody else.”

It is not acceptable for a president to claim, as he did Tuesday in a single tweet, that Build Back Better is “fully paid for” (it’s not), that it “will not increase the deficit” (it would), and that it “won’t raise the taxes by one penny for anyone making less than $400,000 a year” (counters the Tax Policy Center: “roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of middle-income households would pay more in taxes in 2022“). Such hyperbolic balderdash is worthy of a 24-year-old social media intern at a hack think tank; not the Commander in Chief of allegedly the greatest nation on Earth.

Democratic self-governance requires a certain modicum of citizen self-respect. If elected executives can lie with impunity, they will lie with impunity, and the chances of those lies turning out somehow to be “noble” are roughly slim, none, and fat. There’s a pandemic still on, a world wracked with its usual uncertainties, and oncoming calamities we cannot currently see. Dishonest federal leadership will only make all those things worse.



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