Worst presidential speech in modern history?

Has any president in the last 50 years delivered a worse speech than Joe Biden did yesterday in Georgia? The only one that comes immediately to my mind is Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” address of 1979. But impolitic as it was, at least that speech contained a kernel of truth.

I invite the distinguished presidential scholars among our readers and my co-bloggers to point to a speech worse than Biden’s.

How bad was the speech? So bad that even ankle-biting partisan Dick Durbin found it objectionable. Putting it as politely and as compatibly with his rank partisanship as reasonably possible, Durbin agreed that Biden “went a little too far in his rhetoric.”

I want to make two observations about Biden’s speech. First, it was boycotted by Georgia’s leading “voting-rights” activists. Leaders of a coalition of voting rights groups declined to attend.

Even Stacey Abrams was a no-show. She cited “scheduling issues,” a laughably implausible excuse for not attending a presidential speech in her backyard.

Thus, the only people likely to have appreciated Biden’s over-the-top rhetoric — Stacey Abrams and her crew — weren’t in attendance because Biden seems already to have alienated them. With his speech, he alienated, or at least offended, nearly everyone to the right of Abrams and her crew.

My second observation is that Biden lied about himself. This doesn’t distinguish the Georgia speech from standard Biden fare. However, this particular lie — the claim of having been arrested for protesting in favor of civil rights — adds to the disgrace because Biden, a one-time ally of segregationists, was falsely and shamefully attempting to stand alongside heroes of the civil rights movement who suffered imprisonment for their efforts.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, gives the president four Pinocchios, the maximum number, for his claim about being arrested. Kessler explains:

[T]here’s the president, saying he once had been arrested, during a section [of his speech] that recalled some of the heroes of the civil rights movement. He even suggested he had been arrested more than once, as he recalled it was the “first time” he had been arrested.

It’s certainly not the first time he’s said he’s been arrested. Previously, he has said he was arrested trying to see Nelson Mandela in South Africa ( Four Pinocchios false) and for trying to enter an all-female dorm room at Ohio University ( Partly False, according to USA Today). He has also suggested he was arrested for wandering onto the Senate floor as a “star-struck kid,” but most times he has indicated he was just given a warning.

But there’s no evidence we can find that Biden was ever arrested.

Biden’s claim in Georgia appears to be based on his alleged arrest in his early teens, of which his elderly mother supposedly reminded him when Barack Obama tapped him for the VP nomination, for protesting on behalf of a black couple that had moved into his neighborhood:

The stories are roughly the same but there are subtle changes. In four cases, the protest supposedly took place in Lynnfield, Del., which was near the town of Mayfield. Biden’s family moved there in 1955, the year he turned 13. In one version, the protest took place in Carrcroft, which is nearby. Both Lynnfield and Carrcroft are about a mile from Mayfield.

In three cases, Biden asserts he was arrested for standing on the porch with the Black couple who were subject to demonstrations. On the face of it, that doesn’t make much sense. After all, what would be the charge?

In two versions, Biden says the police merely brought him back home from the protest after he stood on the porch. That makes a little more sense, though it’s unclear why police would take the time if they had their hands full with a protest. In any case, this means there would be no arrest record. . . .

There was a protest against a Black couple who had purchased a house in an all-White area, but it was a neighborhood many miles away from the Biden home. Biden instead appears to be referring to a protest that took place outside the home of the real estate agent who was involved in the sale.

It’s possible that police might have taken the young Biden home from a dangerous situation — as he said twice — but that’s not an arrest. Moreover, one would think such a memorable incident would have made it into one of Biden’s memoirs. Instead, it’s not even mentioned in the book that specifically references the conversation with his mother about joining the ticket [the conversation in which Biden has claimed his mother referred to his arrest]. Ordinarily, one would think such an important moment in a young man’s life would have merited an earlier recounting. . . .

The Wilmington Journal. . .mentioned an arrest of a teenager at [the home of real estate agent] but not under heroic circumstances described by Biden.

“A 17-year-old youth was charged with breach of the peace after allegedly swinging at a woman identified by state police as Mrs. Elizabeth MacGuiness of Castle Hills during the demonstration at Levering’s home,” the newspaper reported on Feb. 27, 1959. “After the arrest the boy was returned to the custody of his parents and will face action in Family Court, police said. The commotion caused by the young ‘outsider’ was the only one observed by police all evening.”

Biden was 16 at the time.

Biden’s lie about his past is just a footnote to the larger, highly damning critique of his speech. Mitch McConnell laid out the real indictment forcefully in the speech from which Scott quotes at length here.

But we shouldn’t let Biden’s false portrayal of his history pass without notice, and I’m glad the Post’s Kessler chose to notice it publicly.

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