Donald Trump just lied again. Monday night he tweeted that the United States is going to “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” The United States doesn’t have the capability to round up millions of illegal immigrants and deport them, leaving reporters to scurry around trying to figure out exactly what he means.
Trump’s whoppers rarely get serious competition from the other side of the aisle. Nobody is as big as he is and nobody twists reality the way he does. But with the Democratic primary heating up and front-runner Joe Biden trading barbs with the president, last week there was finally some competition.
In a Trumpian-turn, the former vice president claimed that electing him would cure cancer. No, seriously.
“I promise you if I’m elected president, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes America. We’re gonna cure cancer,” he told a crowd in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Right. The war on cancer goes back to Richard Nixon, and in the years since the National Cancer Act of 1971, we’ve made a ton of progress. But even five decades later, there’s not going to be a cure any time soon for one simple reason: Cancer isn’t one disease. It is a complex constellation of distinct ailments caused by a diverse mix of environmental and genetic factors.
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The fact is that we’ll be fighting this war for decades to come, no matter how many votes Biden gets and no matter how much money he plans to spend.
Biden, of course, knows all this. After his son Beau’s tragic death from brain cancer, the then-vice president was named by President Barack Obama to head a federal “moonshot” effort to cure cancer. Biden met with hundreds of leading researchers and advocates, who explained the complexity of the challenge.
Not content with giving false hope to the desperate families of those fighting a grim cancer diagnosis, Biden decided to give false hope to those sick of the Trump administration’s never ending barrage of scandal and falsehood.
Referring to his time as Obama’s veep, Biden said, “For eight years, there wasn’t one hint of a scandal or a lie.”
Think of all the true things Biden could have said to distinguish the relatively normal Obama years from the fact-free, scandal-plagued disaster area of the Trump years. But Biden said NOT ONE HINT of scandal. NOT ONE HINT of a lie.
To prove that flamingly false doesn’t take a lot of effort. At the center of the Obama administration’s greatest achievement was an epic lie. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” President Obama told the American people over and over.
It was never true, and millions of people lost insurance coverage they were perfectly happy with. This isn’t an obscure fact or a partisan interpretation. PolitiFact called it the “lie of the year” in 2013, writing, “This fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong. … Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology.”
Even a generous observer would call that scandalous. And that’s just one incident.
More than a few scandals
There were plenty of others. There was the Justice Department gun-walking scandal and all the lies around that. There was the IRS effort to silence conservative nonprofits in an election year and all the lies around that. There was Hillary Clinton’s secret email server scandal and all the lies around that.
And whatever you think of those four scandals and their attendant falsehoods, remember that Biden didn’t say there were no serious scandals or no scandals that rival Trump’s misdeeds. He said, “There wasn’t one hint of a scandal or a lie.”
Now Biden’s one-two punch of factually challenged assertions last week certainly don’t put him in the category of Trump and his 10,000-plus false or misleading statements. But they do reveal ways the Democratic front-runner might not be the most effective candidate against President Trump.
Pie-in-the-sky promises about curing cancer only fuel distrust in government. Fantasies about an ethical golden age insult voters who remember that the scandal-laden Hillary Clinton was the avatar of an Obama-era third term. And both Biden’s falsehoods feed the cynical view that all politicians are allergic to the truth, normalizing one of Trump’s most appalling pathologies.
If someone in the Democratic Party is going to beat Trump, they’re going to do it by being authentic and honest with the American people. Last week, Biden was anything but.
David Mastio is deputy editorial page editor of USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter @DavidMastio