by Victor David Hanson
Sometime-Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden was at it again, voicing his brand of tough-guy boasts that he can “beat Trump like a drum.”
A 1980s sci-fi cult film about a weirdo, Buckaroo Banzai, who travels through time dimensions in many manifestations battling evil and saving good guys reminds us of the latest incarnation of Joe Biden.
Biden sees himself as something similar, as Americans are reacquainting themselves with the three-time presidential candidate, who for years has been regaling audiences as the swashbuckling hero of an amazing repertoire of his own larger than life stories.
Sometimes the bard Buckaroo Biden entertains crowds as the self-sacrificing tribal white knight who physically stood down punks who threatened his family.
Sometimes Biden becomes Captain America Biden who stands up to his country’s enemy bullies abroad who would corrupt the international order.
And sometimes Biden can’t help but become the hero even in ceremonial duties where he is supposed to be honoring someone else.
The common denominator is that we elected a senator, then a vice president, and he hopes, soon a president—and got a Homeric hero in the bargain.
Brave Biden vs. Corn Pop and the Romans
Biden’s best mini-epic was his youthful battle against “Corn Pop”—a supposedly dangerous black gang leader who made the mistake of squaring off against the volatile and scary 19-year-old lifeguard Biden at a community swimming pool. The showdown saw “Corn Pop,” enemy of a rules-based society, pitted against lifeguard Biden, the proverbial thin line between anarchy and civilization.
Or as Biden put it in one of his many versions of his own Iliad and in his many feigned accents and modulated voices, as a teenager he wished to work at a minority dominated pool because most African-Americans in 1962 had never met a white person before, especially the sort of tough hero like Joe Biden. Unfortunately, lifeguard Biden told off Corn Pop, the leader of “the Romans,” for violating pool rules.
Corn Pop promised to get Biden after work in the parking lot, and supposedly showed up with three thugs with “straight razors” (for those of you born in the ages after the “record player” these were single-edge shaving blades), deliberately left “rusty” to ensure greater mayhem.
No problem, Biden went to his own Yoda, the pool’s street wizened white mechanic. And, of course, the two bonded, given their white, blue-collar shared cred. His buddy then cut Biden “six feet” of chain to arm him for his duel to come.
Suitably equipped, Biden strutted out to meet four black gang bangers with rusty razors. (“You might cut me, Corn Pop, but I’m going to wrap this chain around your head before you do.”)
As they readied to rumble, Biden first offered an apology for insulting Corn Pop—one last chance to advert mayhem. The latter thought it wiser to accept this admission from the chain-bearing Biden. And the two became friends. Biden, remember, is well versed in chains, given that as an adult—in his inner-city patois—he later warned an audience of black professionals that should Mitt Romney be elected, he and his opulent cronies would “put y’all back in chains.”
Biden the epic bard has retold the Homeric Corn Pop tale several times with suitable formulaic variances, but the message again is multifold: working-class whites and inner-city blacks alike respect Biden, because he is, well, genuine—a tough, no-nonsense guy who is always civilization’s enforcer.
Some no doubt will believe the “Corn Pop” yarn is no more real than was Cory Booker’s “T-Bone” or Barack Obama’s girlfriend in his recalibrated “mythography.” But Biden reminds audiences that the remodeled pool was later renamed after him, and we are left to speculate it might not have been just as thanks for the pork Biden brought home as a U.S. senator, but in honor of his mythical service decades earlier as a banty rooster lifeguard.
Brave Biden vs. the Bully Boy
Another tale, of course, is of Biden the protector of vulnerable women and the weaker members of the Biden clan. Many of the trademark Biden virtues are once again apparent in this fish story—the barely controlled Biden temper, the valiant solitary Biden squaring off against either more or bigger enemies, and the white knight Biden protecting civilization from barbarians.
Perhaps it is better to let Beowulf Biden tell it as he did in June of this year to a women’s charity:
I remember coming back from Mass on Sunday. Always the big treat was, we’d stop at the donut shop…We’d get donuts, and my dad would wait in the car. As I was coming out, my sister [Valerie] tugged on me and said, “That’s the boy who kicked me off my bicycle.”
So I went home—we only lived about a quarter mile away—and I got on my bicycle and rode back, and he was in the donut shop.
Once Biden saw his opening he took it:
I walked up behind him and smashed his head next to the counter . . . I’m not recommending it . . . His father grabbed me, and I looked at his son and said, “If you ever touch my sister again, I’ll come back here again and I’ll kill your son.” Now, that was a euphemism. I thought I was really, really in trouble . . . My father never once raised his hand to any one of his children—never once—and I thought I was in trouble. He pulled me aside and said, “Joey, you shouldn’t do that, but I’m proud of you, son.”
So do not mess Biden, who, in extremis, was always capable of killing the bastards who needed killing. And he also can offer smaller, toned down lyric admonitions of his epic battles on behalf of women, as recently on the stump when the veteran of the gender wars reminded the brothers of an apparently attractive teenage girl, that caught Biden’s wandering eye, “You’ve got one job here, keep the guys away from your sister.”
Brave Biden vs. the World
Do we remember when Biden took on all of the Ukraine on our behalf, or at least in defense of his son’s crass efforts to leverage father Joe’s name and office as vice president to rake in some foreign cash?
And I remember going over [to Ukraine], convincing our team, our leaders to—convincing that we should be providing for loan guarantees. And I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev. And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t.
So they said they had—they were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you $1 billion. They said, you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president said—I said, call him. (Laughter.) I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the $1 billion. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.
Biden was one again the tough guy hero of the vignette who snapped a nation to attention with a single threatening sentence. Yet Biden left out the critical subtext that the special prosecutor (the non-“solid” one) he got fired was investigating— inter alia the shenanigans of his own son, Hunter Biden, for allegedly receiving funds from Ukrainian officials for hoped for favorable reciprocal American consideration.
Biden, remember, is “the real deal,” not the faux bully like Donald Trump. What might happen if Biden-Achilles ever met Trump-Hector? Biden on two occasions told us. Here are the shorter 2016 and longer 2018 versions:
“The press always asks me, don’t I wish I were debating him? No, I wish I were in high school, I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish.”
“They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman, and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him . . . I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life. I’m a pretty damn good athlete . . . Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room.”
All the Biden formulae are here: violence on behalf of the weak, the courageous vigilante service for society, and preference for action rather than verbal dalliance.
Most recently, Biden managed to recite another fable that even his liberal supporters found was demonstrably false in its details, a mostly a stitched together fable of mangled truths and utter fiction.
Here is the Washington Post’s version of Biden trip to Afghanistan to decorate an American combat hero:
Some told him it [the trip] was too risky, but Biden said he brushed off their concerns. “We can lose a vice president,” he said. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”
The Navy captain, Biden recalled Friday night, had rappelled down a 60-foot ravine under fire and retrieved the body of an American comrade, carrying him on his back. Now the general wanted Biden to pin a Silver Star on the American hero who, despite his bravery, felt like a failure.
“He said, ‘Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!’” Biden said, his jaw clenched and his voice rising to a shout. “’Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!’”
“This is the God’s truth,” Biden said while telling the story, adding a strange promise: “My word as a Biden.”
Except that it was neither God’s truth nor was the word of a Biden worth much.
The Post concluded that little of Biden tale was true. Or as the paper put it, after “interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials,” [Biden] “got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.”
Yet the Post should not be too surprised because Biden’s false memories always have constant and predictable elements, as we see in this fable that emphasizes the courageous Biden risking death to travel to war-torn Afghanistan to personally pin a medal on a fellow hero. All that was different this time around was that Biden composed his epic from recent events whose names, dates, and places could be fact checked in a way the donut shop owner and his Corn Pop heroics could not be checked.
Biden the Fabulist
Strangest, saddest—and most disturbing—of all Biden’s self-referential epics was his repeated narrative that the tragic deaths of his first wife and daughter were due to a careless drunk driver, who “drank his lunch”—an utterly false and damning accusation. Or as The Atlantic related in a 2010 profile:
For many years, he described the driver of the truck that struck and killed his first wife and their daughter in December 1972 as drunk, which he apparently was not. The tale could hardly be more tragic; why add in a baseless charge? The family of the truck driver has labored to correct the record, but Biden made the reference to drunkenness as recently as 2007, needlessly resurrecting a false and painful accusation.
Why did Biden add in the scurrilous charge? Because as a fabulist, he is always the center of both heroism and tragedy, and as bard he is not above stitching together myths to enhance his own suffering, ordeal, and indomitable spirit.
To the degree there are explanations for these myths, Biden likes to remind us he is not a career politician who became a multimillionaire grandee, but is still good ol’ Joe, the “pretty damn good athlete” from Scranton way, the sole progressive who can talk turkey with the white working class, the tragic hero who steps out from the timid crowd to confront the lynch mob, the man of action who has no time for obfuscation and temporizing when a head smash, a good licking, a chain swat, or a diplomatic threat cuts to the quick.
But it is not so simple. There is a price to pay for such mock gallantry of our stock hero Biden risking injury or death by an adult small business owner, or about to be swarmed by razor-wielding toughs, or risking a one-on-one behind the gym, or indifferent to being downed in the badlands of Afghanistan, or, yes, tormented by the callous act of a felonious drunk driver. The mythical Biden is always a hero to his all too real valet, Biden the politician.
Yet, these Walter Mitty constructions are not mere memory lapses. They are more than the natural embellishments of habitual storytellers. And they are not even campaign episodes to puff up the candidate in the manner that all politicians lie to some degree.
The pathological yarns usually do not just glorify Biden but also denigrate others who likely were not culpable and certainly not around on stage to set the record straight.
The real heroic veteran in Afghanistan becomes a secondary prop to Biden’s ego, the innocent truck driver lives with the stigma of a killer from the Biden smear, and the Ukrainian prosecutor is exposed as a crook. In that sense, the madcap adventures of young and old Joe are creepy, with winners like himself and smeared losers—the verbal versions of the mute victims of Joe’s hugs, squeezes, and hair blowing.
The zero-sum Biden script in these fictions is the same: the flipside of the apotheosis of Joe Biden is always the demonization or depersonalization of some silent other, without Joe’s Biden influence and reach.
Joe Biden reminds us that losers sometimes compose history.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).
Photo “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.