The Democratic primary has been winnowed down to only two candidates and the final debate covered a wide array of topics in its two-hour runtime: foreign policy, the President’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 crisis, national health care, and former Vice President Joe Biden’s numerous falsehoods and blatant lies.
Beyond this, there was a notable development in Biden pledging to nominate a woman as his running mate with Senator Bernie Sanders also claiming that this would likely be his preference as well, but for the most part it was a rehash of the same debate between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. As Dave Weigel of the Washington Post once remarked, “if there is a way to ask about Medicare for All without throwing the candidates into a repetitive time warp, no moderator has figured it out.” Occasionally the conversation wandered into Sanders’ comments about Cuban literacy programs and Joe Biden’s vote on the Iraq invasion, but by now these also feel like old news.
Due to concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the debate itself was held in the nation’s capital instead of it’s original location in Arizona. States like Georgia and Louisiana have delayed their presidential primary elections over these same concerns, but Arizona did not. Their response was to instead close 78 polling locations, which will likely ensure that more people are going to crowd themselves into fewer places, the literal opposite of what medical professionals have been begging everyone to do (many suspect this is why Scott Jarrett, the Maricopa County, Arizona Election Day Director, looked shaken and disturbed when announcing the poll closures before muttering “I’m sorry, I can’t do this” and walking off the stage).
Another new development caused by the coronavirus could be considered an improvement–the debate was held without an audience, and after the bizarre and raucous previous debate this was a refreshing change that allowed the candidates to speak to one another in a more natural setting, i.e. one without dozens of audience members hollering incomprehensibly at the candidates.
One small aspect, however, has remained unchanged since the first Democratic primary debate: Joe Biden telling lies, very badly. In past debates Biden has deliberately mis-represented his support of segregated busing as well as his praise for two noted racists and arch-segregationists, Strom Thurmond and James O. Eastland. Though it’s likely that few remember the baffling claim that he doesn’t believe in putting people in jail for non-violent offenses, despite being the author of the notorious 1994 Crime Bill and having been captured on video stating that George H.W. Bush’s draconian drug laws didn’t go far enough or put enough people in jail, most of the voting public remembers his easily-disproved lies about supporting the Iraq war. But these fictions were spread out across a six-month period and only appear startling when placed next to each other end-to-end. One would presume that to commit to so many complete fabrications all at once, to utter one deliberate falsehood after another in the space of two hours, would be political suicide. And yet that is precisely what happened at the tenth and likely final Democratic debate.
Bear in mind that this went beyond the typical smudging and stretching of the truth one usually sees at these events. Even Bernie Sanders, despite his reputation for consistency, has been accused of disingenuousness in regard to SuperPAC funding of his campaign. Sanders does indeed have PACs that donate to his campaign and the distinction between his PACs and, say, Biden’s or Buttigieg’s, is of a very fine sort—the difference isn’t really in how he’s funded, but by whom. For instance, the Nurses Union has endorsed Sanders and this same union has a SuperPAC that donates regularly to his campaign, but all of the money comes from the members of the Nurses Union and it seems silly to claim that Sanders is in the pocket of “Big Nurse”. Even so, it could fairly be called a stretch (at the very least) to claim that Sanders does not take SuperPAC money.
But what Joe Biden did Sunday night—what he has done repeatedly, throughout his entire career—goes far beyond that.
Biden Lies About Wanting to Cut Social Security, Medicare, and Veteran Benefits
Sunday night in DC, on stage, Bernie Sanders turned to Joe Biden and said “You have stood on the floor of the Senate, time and time again, talking about the need to cut social security, medicare, and veteran benefits. Is that true or is that not true?”
Biden replied that this was not true, prompting Sanders to go full Larry David and instruct viewers to “go to the YouTube”, presumably to watch this video from 1995 of Joe Biden on the Senate floor bragging about his repeated efforts to freeze social security, medicare, and veteran benefits, or perhaps this video from 2007 in which he confirms his willingness to put social security and medicare “on the table”. This instruction turned out to be unnecessary, as Biden would moments later contradict himself and admit that he had in fact proposed making cuts to these programs. According to Joe Biden on Sunday, March 15th, 2020 this was done “in order to get the kinds of changes we need on other things”. Despite this admission, mere seconds later Biden again denied that he had tried to make cuts to social security.
Biden Lies About the Bankruptcy Bill
At roughly an hour into the debate Sanders accused Biden of assisting in the formation of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), saying “Joe talked about bankruptcy. Joe, if my memory is correct, you helped write that bankruptcy bill.” Biden angrily protested, apparently unaware or uncaring that his role in forming BAPCPA and pushing it from his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee is so well-known that the friction between Biden and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is often attributed to this exact bill, which sought to “protect” financial institutions and credit card companies—many of which are headquartered in Biden’s home state of Delaware due to its lax tax statutes—from abuse at the hands of victims of predatory lending, the elderly, students drowning in debt, and those with medical bills far beyond their means.
Biden Lies About Sanders Voting Against Auto Industry Bailout
During a discussion on 2008 bank bailout, which Sanders voted against, Biden claimed that Sanders also opposed providing relief for the sinking auto industry. Sanders denied this and the conversation continued, but it’s worth pointing out this was a misconception spread by the Clinton campaign in 2016 as well—Sanders did vote against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was designed to assist financial institutions by essentially giving them hundreds of billions of dollars in interest-free loans, which would allow them to then start loaning those same funds at an interest rate greater than zero and make an easy profit. Later in the year there was a separate bailout specifically for the auto industry that Sanders did in fact vote for, which failed to pass the Senate (after that failure President Bush decided to simply allocate a portion of the TARP funds to the automotive industry).
Biden Lies About No New Fracking
During the portion on climate change, Joe Biden claimed that his plan to tackle this “existential threat” included, similar to his opponent Bernie Sanders’ plan, “no more—no new fracking”. This was another quick little lie that flew past without giving many a chance to notice, with the exception of former Obama speechwriter-turned-political podcaster Jon Favereau on the Crooked Media debate live chat. As Favereau pointed out, Biden’s stated environmental policy does not include a policy of no new fracking. In fact, “fracking” does not appear at all in the ten-thousand word document. His claim that there would be zero drilling on federal land is also not supported by his state policy, although it would enact or expand coverage for large swaths of federal land.
Taken all together, it’s remarkable that CNN moderators did not push back one single time to any of these objectively untrue claims made by a US presidential candidate. Remember, these were not simply the sort of “gaffes” for which Joe Biden is famous. Forgetting that you’re on camera during a virtual town hall and wandering off screen is a gaffe. Telling a crowd that you’re running for Senate instead of running for President is a gaffe. Forgetting the words to the Declaration of Independence is a gaffe. What Biden did Sunday night was a repeated and purposeful distortion of the truth.
Should Biden receive the democratic nomination, as he is expected to do, all of this—in conjunction with Biden seeming to absorb Warren’s college-debt forgiveness plans—feels like an ominous portend that the 2020 presidential race will melt into a hideous reproduction of the 2016 race in which a moderate Democratic candidate, pushed unwillingly and ever-so-slightly to the left, runs against an inveterate conman and corrupt baboon, planning on benefitting from Barack Obama’s coalition to take them across the finish line and unaware that they’re about to run into a buzzsaw of accusations of deceit, corruption, and crooked establishment ties that will ultimately taint them in the eyes of the voters in much-needed battleground states. The only thing missing is, uh, an FBI investigation.