A Libido for Lying


What is the most ridiculous statement you’ve ever read?

I don’t mean the silliest or the goofiest or the most inaccurate. I mean the statement you can least imagine anyone making, to anyone, at any time, for any reason. If you want, you can let me know what it is — even if it’s some comment that I made.

But I believe the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever encountered was uttered by (you probably guessed it) Joe Biden, on February 13, in a conversation on The View. Discussing his son Hunter, Biden said, “Nobody has said he’s done anything wrong.”

Nobody has said he’s done anything wrong.

The article is as confused as the Bidens, and aims to justify them, but the central picture could not be clearer.

The only reason Hunter’s existence is known by the public and is therefore eligible for comment on television is years of reports about things he’s done wrong. He was booted out of the Navy for drug use. He returned a rental car with a crack pipe still inside it. Soon after his brother died, he had an affair with his brother’s wife (he also seems to have appropriated and used his dead brother’s identification). He then married a woman he’d known for about a week. He fathered a child by another woman and denied having done it; DNA showed that he had, and he was sued for support, reaching a temporary settlement only after it appeared that his financial records might become public evidence. He was paid something like a million dollars a year by a more than shady Ukrainian energy company, as a reward for duties that have not been specified, except for the occasional conference at Monte Carlo or similar destination. While “working” for that company, he spent significant amounts of time in rehab and in cadging drugs around homeless encampments. His father bragged about threatening to have a large chunk of US aid withheld from Ukraine unless a prosecutor who might have been targeting the energy company was fired. President Trump was impeached for suggesting that the Ukrainian government investigate the Bidens, and the Bidens’ dealings with Ukraine became major elements of the president’s defense.

Nobody said anything? In fact, many of the details I just recited were published last July in an article in The New Yorker, a house organ of the Bidens’ own party. Its account was supported by interviews with Hunter himself. The article is as confused as the Bidens, and aims to justify them, but the central picture could not be clearer.

As you know, I’ve discussed the Bidens before, and readers have a right to be tired of these discussions. But when you find the Platonic form of something — in this case, pigheaded, arrogant, self-righteous stupidity — it’s hard not to talk about it. If Father Biden drops out of the presidential race by the time this column appears, what I say here won’t matter much to the national discourse. But his statement should continue to be noted — remembered — wondered at — approached with primitive awe:

Nobody has said he’s done anything wrong.

He might have given out with some exculpatory information. But he didn’t. He preferred to attack the accusers of his son by denying that they exist.

What other parent in the history of the world has introduced a conversation about his son by saying, “Nobody has said he’s done anything wrong”?

A little later in that conversation Biden came up with a slightly different line of defense. He followed the lead of President Trump, who defended his conversation with the Ukrainian president by claiming it was “a perfect phone call.” Joe Biden said of Hunter Biden, “This is a guy who has done nothing but good things his whole life, my son” — thus combining the claim of perfection with a more ordinary demand to go easy on a child, my child. How well this works for a 50-year-old child is questionable.

Biden might, conceivably, have stretched his defense into an actual refutation of the Ukrainian accusations. He might have given out with some exculpatory information. But he didn’t. He preferred to attack the accusers of his son by denying that they exist. And this was no sudden mental lapse, no product of senility. Biden has been “senile” for years; he may be no more senile now than he was three decades ago, when he memorized the autobiographical ramblings of Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock and represented them as his own impassioned declaration of heritage and identity. Kinnock’s statements were preposterous. Meditating on his family’s experience during the Cro Magnon era, he asked the pregnant question, "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” Biden’s choice of this stuff was sufficient answer to his own question, “Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”

And, amazing as this may seem, the absurd claim I’m discussing — “Nobody has said he’s done anything wrong” — was consciously and deliberately chosen by Biden and his advisors as the argument they wanted to lead with. It has become chronic with them.

This last notion comes under the head of normal political lies, the kind of lies in which even Libertarian Party nominees perpetually indulge by insisting that they are too going to win an election.

Chronic, and aggressive. On February 10, Biden said of his son,“No one has said he’s done anything wrong except the thug [and former mayor of New York] Rudy Giuliani. Come on. Rudy Giuliani, a character witness?” On January 31, Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield was asked by Fox News personality Ed Henry: "What kind of character did the vice president show when Barack Obama had him overseeing Ukrainian policy and yet one of the vice president's sons was making over $83,000 a month from a Ukrainian gas company? What kind of character was that?"

Bedingfield responded that Biden showed "unassailable character" and "not a single person" has suggested during the impeachment proceeding that Biden did anything other than carry out the foreign policy interests of the United States by trying to "root out corruption" in Ukraine.

Equally quaint was the spokeswoman’s idea of where the notion of Biden family wrongdoing came from:

This is an attempt, pure and simple, by Donald Trump to smear Joe Biden, suggest there is some sort of ethical issue here when there isn't, to do everything in his power to try and prevent Joe Biden from being the nominee. Because he knows if Joe Biden is the nominee, he's going to beat him.

Pure and simple. As if anyone in the world ever thought, seriously thought, that Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump.

This last notion comes under the head of normal political lies, the kind of lies in which even Libertarian Party nominees perpetually indulge by insisting that they are, they are so, going to win an election. But wait a minute! Consider what this means. Normal political lies are almost as obsessive and uncanny as Joe Biden’s astonishing lie. Because they are normal, these chronic lies can only be explained as the result of a libido for lying, a love of lying, a continual choice of bizarre lies over any form of truth.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump, and many, many other people have spent years just saying things, over and over again, that everyone with an adult brain knows are totally false. According to Sanders and Warren, nationalizing healthcare and paying for it with taxes won’t raise taxes “on the middle class”; according to Trump, all of Trump’s policies are dramatically successful; and so forth. Sometimes these lies are accompanied by charts and graphs and white-paper “plans,” à la the schoolmarmish Warren; sometimes by deep rumblings that “I know what I’m talking about; I wrote the God damned bill,” à la the irascible Sanders; sometimes by endless reiteration, à la the bombastic Trump. No one but a child could believe these things, but there are many children. I’ve just mentioned three of them.

In Sanders Speak, wealth is a filthy object, owned only by greedy capitalists; it’s never anything possessed by a 39-year officeholder living high on the public hog.

So Biden might have found many normal ways of disgracing himself. He might have resorted, for instance, to radical redefinitions of ordinary terms. Sanders does this all the time. “Wealth” is a favorite subject of redefinition. In Sanders Speak, wealth is a filthy object, owned only by greedy capitalists; it’s never anything possessed by a 39-year officeholder living high on the public hog. “Pay” is another one; people are made to pay by corporations, never by the government. “Work” is never done by entrepreneurs but always by the sweated working class. A “monopoly” is any “giant corporation”; its antidote and opposite is giant government, exercising control of everything. Sanders can dance flatfooted with any word he chooses. He once said, “I am not sure whether my position on Nicaragua is conservative or radical.” Sanders doesn’t consider himself a “politician,” but he’s sure that Donald Trump is a “demagogue.”

And what is a demagogue? Here’s standard Sanders, admirably represented in a speech from June 12 of last year:

Today, we have a demagogue in the White House who, for cheap political gain, is attempting to deflect the attention of the American people away from the real crises that we face and, instead, is doing what demagogues always do — and that is divide people up and legislate hatred. This is a president who supports brutal family separations, border walls, Muslim bans, anti-LGBT policies, deportations and voter suppression.

It is my very strong belief that the United States must reject that path of hatred and divisiveness and instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love.

And that is the path that I call democratic socialism.

Socialism = compassion, justice, and love. That is the path that I call BS. And that is what I call a lie.

Without exploring Sanders’ hysterical but nonspecific charges — although I feel I should note that “voter suppression” appears to be what happens when not enough people voted for candidates whom Sanders likes, and “anti-LGBT policies” must be something other than high-level appointments for people such as Rick Grenell — I’d like to observe that a real demagogue is a “leader of the people,” and as such ordinarily does not try to “divide people up.” A demagogue is characteristically, and infernally, a uniter of the people. I don’t know what you’d call a fanatical old man perpetually bellowing hateful words and calling it “love,” but I do know this is a guy who’s great at dividing people, and a guy who promises, if elected, to legislate his hatreds into an enormous prison of restrictions and confiscations.

Biden's departure from politics will be like the demise of whoever designed the Great Pyramid of Giza.

But I’m supposed to be talking about Biden. If he didn’t want to follow Sanders down Redefinition Road, he might have followed Nancy Pelosi along the same track. At midmonth, she was interviewed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, a woman mainly remarkable for grim devotion to the modern liberal establishment — hardly an antagonistic questioner. But somehow Amanpour happened to mention the fact that President Trump was “acquitted” in his impeachment trial. That was a mistake. Pelosi spluttered back:

He was not . . . there was no . . . You can’t have an acquittal unless you have a trial, and you can’t have a trial unless you have witnesses and documents. So he can say he’s acquitted, and the headlines can say “acquitted,” but he’s impeached forever, branded with that, and not vindicated.

Anyone could perform this kind of redefinition. Let’s try it on Pelosi.

You say you’re a congresswoman? You’re not a congresswoman. To be a congresswoman you have to be elected, and how can you have an election unless your side can lose? And your side can’t lose. There hasn’t been a Republican “elected” in your constituency since 1949. You yourself have won every congressional “election” since 1987. So you can say you were elected, but that’s not an election.

How’s that for lying? Pretty good, eh?

Even Biden could have done the same thing: “Nobody — nobody I’ve talked to, and I know everybody — has said, in a sworn deposition, that my son did anything — anything important, anything vital — that is wrong, under the Code of Hammurabi.” This kind of lie has worked for others — hasn’t it? How foolish for him not to have used it himself!

This, of course, speaks to Biden’s uniqueness. His departure from politics will be like the demise of whoever designed the Great Pyramid of Giza. His name may be forgotten, but his verbal accomplishments will endure forever, as a standard by which the absurd is measured. His achievement is unique — but I must continue to acknowledge other recent and daring forays into interplanetary lingos that no earthling can fully comprehend.

Buttigieg seems to have thought that his inane statement was a message that ought to be carved above courthouse doors.

Here’s one that will be remembered. I’m indebted to Drew Ferguson for discovering it and letting me know about it before anyone else had noticed it. It’s a weird, existential utterance by Peter (“Pete”) Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, who said on February 6: “The shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue.”

What? How did he possibly come to say that? I’ll tell you how. A public school teacher had embarrassed him by asking, at a CNN “Town Hall” (“town hall”: a place where politicians hand out lies), that he reveal the one thing he most wanted to accomplish as president. Well, that was a stumper. Only one thing! The Napoleon of South Bend has as many plans as Scheherazade had stories. So Mayor Pete looked bashful for a while, and then he dredged up the just quoted talking point: “The shape of our democracy . . .” It took a lot of aimless rambling around before he thought of something specific to connect this with, but he finally recalled one of the Democrats’ proposals to “take the money out of politics”; i.e., to take their opponents’ money out of politics.

This was a flop, but Buttigieg thought so well of his “shape” remark that he put it up on his Twitter account. He seems to have thought that his inane statement — inane and, as Drew commented, completely unvisualizable — was a message that ought to be carved above courthouse doors.

In these circumstances, we must be grateful to anyone, anywhere, who states a plain truth.

Buttigieg, like Biden, is a self-confident absurdist. He cannot imagine that his august sayings can ever be subject to question. He has them stored up; they’re ready; he’s memorized them — what could be the problem? That’s how we get such intended quotables as this one, delivered on the night of the Iowa Caucus, before any votes were counted:

What a night. Because tonight, an improbable hope became an undeniable reality.

If “undeniable reality” means anything, it means Buttigieg’s victory in Iowa and beyond. But his ultimate victory remained supremely deniable, and his immediate victory was so far from being undeniable as to remain, weeks later, the subject of strong debate and informed mockery. Skeptical observers wondered how he could have been so confident that he would emerge at least neck and neck with Sanders (each at about a quarter of the vote — big whoop). But if he knew something, how did he know it? Sanders supporters know something about the corruptions of our democracy, and they suspect more. But for Buttigieg, if you have a noun introduced by an im- adjective, and another noun, introduced by an un- adjective, then your statement must be true and great and wonderful, and useful as well. No matter that it isn’t true.

The book of Revelation (22:15) mentions “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Loveth a lie. You gotta love it, or you won’t be able to make it. Our politicians have no problem with that. They’re the ones who possess the luv.

In these circumstances, we must be grateful to anyone, anywhere, who states a plain truth. My heart leaped up, the other day, when I read a headline in the Elite Herald, a clickbait site: “The British Royal Family Tree Reveals Some Members Are Related to One Another.” How true, how true. And how reassuring, after all.

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Scott Robinson

Dear Stephen,

It is disheartening to observe that lying and politics go together like birds and chirping. I think of an instruction for what is important about political statements; it's not the love of your statement for the truth that matters, it's your love for the statement that shows your followers its truth.

It is like Joe Biden said, "The truth and the facts are not the same thing." He does seem like he truly believes that statement. This way you know that you can't use observable facts to disprove the truth he tells you.

Good Article,


All of Cox's articles on language should be collected into a book. Why isn't this happening? Nobody has ever said they shouldn't be.


Good article.

I think these politicians have learned to love lying just as Winston Smith learned to love Big Brother in George Orwell's novel "1984". In Orwell's futuristic dystopian fantasy, all assertions are political in nature, including the assertion "2 + 2 = 4", which is true only if the state says it is. To avoid committing "thoughtcrime", citizens must practice "doublethink", which is the ability to hold two completely contradictory thoughts simultaneously while believing both of them to be true. It appears that many of our politicians have mastered the art, and expect the voters to do so as well.

Michael F.S.W. Morrison

Stephen Cox is, of course, one of our most important and brilliant writers, so I guess we should just expect to be entertained by his essays, no matter how impassioned.
But he managed, in this one, to bring out facts that I, an at least somewhat aware consumer of "news," didn't know, hadn't heard or read.
It might not be in the King James version of the Bible, but it ought to be somewhere, a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your gift of Stephen Cox.

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