Remember when your father or grandfather would make up stories for you? You knew they were false and you knew they were trying to drive home a moral, but you tolerated them.
For my dad, it was the bedtime story about how he won the Indianapolis 500 with a lawnmower. I’ll spare the details, but it was supposed to illustrate how, if you set your mind to a goal, anything can happen.
I didn’t need to wait a few years to get ahold of my first sports almanac to grasp that, no, dad wasn’t in victory lane at Indy, cradling the Borg-Warner trophy and drinking milk atop a heavily modified Toro.
Sure, I was 4, but I was willing to be lied to. A few decades later, I’d be less indulgent with my dad. I’m exponentially less indulgent with my president.
And boy, doth Uncle Joe tell some whoppers.
Remember the one about being arrested trying to see apartheid South Africa’s most famous prisoner? “This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Joe Biden told an audience in South Carolina in mid-February last year, according to The New York Times. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”
That’s an impressive trick, given that Robben Island — the prison off the coast of Cape Town that the apartheid-era South African government kept Mandela locked up in — is 900 miles away from Soweto, a township in Johannesburg.
But this is when he was campaigning. Surely this was beneath the dignity of a president, no? On this matter, I’d like to hear from the family of Angelo Negri.
Negri is a former Amtrak conductor. He very plausibly knew Joe Biden; during his time in Washington as a senator and then vice president, Biden would ride the rails from the capital to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, sometimes nightly, earning him the moniker “Amtrak Joe.”
Everything else Biden has told us about Negri fits under the aegis of lawnmower/Indy 500 tales.
Twice in two months, the conductor has come up as an object lesson regarding how often Biden takes the choo-choo.
The first time, it was quietly reported how the story was wildly implausible.
Not learning from experience, Biden brought Negri out again on Tuesday during an infrastructure speech at the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility in Wisconsin, again with the same particulars.
The anecdote began with words that should arouse any reasonable Biden aide to jump the podium and tackle the president before he harms himself: “I’ll tell you a real quick story. I shouldn’t bore you with it.”
Alas, Jen Psaki hadn’t put on her pads, so he continued: “You know, the Secret Service — they’re the best in the world — doesn’t like you taking Amtrak because it stops too many times — the train. They want me flying home in the small jets that were available as vice president. And but that cost a lot of money, so I would go home on Fridays, you know, because my mom was passing away. I’d go home on Amtrak. And they published — they keep fastidious record of the miles you travel in an air– in a Air Force aircraft as president and vice president.
“And toward the end of my term, a headline came out in all of the papers: ‘Biden travels’ — I think it was 1.3 or 1.7 million miles on Air Force planes.
“And so, I’m getting on the train on that Friday, and these guys who all became my family, all, the conductor. And a guy named Angelo Negri came up, and he goes, ‘Joey, baby!’ Grabs my cheek like that. And I thought they were going to shoot him, I really did.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no. He’s a friend.’ He was like, ‘What the hell.” And he said, ‘Big deal, Joey. A million’ — whatever it was — ‘three-hundred thousand miles. You know how many miles you’ve traveled on Amtrak, Joey?’ And I said, ‘No, Ang, I don’t.’ And he said, ‘At that retirement dinner, we calculated it. We estimated 127 days a year, 250 miles back and forth, 3 — 36 years, then as vice president. Joey, you traveled more on Amtrak.'”
Here’s Biden on April 30, again breaking out his G-rated Paulie Walnuts impression in a speech marking Amtrak’s 50th birthday:
It makes even less sense this time, if you ask me.
If you like your Biden anecdotes mixed with some Italian stereotyping, this is first-rate stuff. The likelihood it’s true is up there with the odds the Houston Oilers will play the St. Louis Cardinals in the Super Bowl this coming season, but that shouldn’t take away from a presidential tall tale that can be cut up and featured in a commercial if the Olive Garden ever strikes a deal to cater for Amtrak.
First, about that mileage: In February 2016, official vice presidential photographer David Lienemann wrote a Medium post on Biden’s official account in which he said the veep had “crossed the million-mile mark aboard Air Force Two — the official plane of the Vice President” just a few months prior.
Keep in mind that any aircraft the vice president is aboard is given the call sign Air Force Two, meaning that even those “small jets that were available as vice president” that “cost a lot of money” would count toward this as well.
This puts any sort of million-mile mark in 2015 at the latest, then. In 2014, according to a Fox News story, Negri died. He had retired from Amtrak in 1993.
But wait, it gets even worse. In January 2010, Biden’s mother died. This puts the story, if it happened, in 2010 at the latest — 17 years after Negri retired and five years before Biden crossed the million-mile mark on Air Force Two.
Joey, baby, I think this story seems a bit fishy.
Why lie about this? Furthermore, why do it twice?
This is such a low-stakes lawnmower/Indy 500 tale, one that he prefaced by telling the audience he shouldn’t bore them with it. That should have been a sign.
No one doubts Joe Biden loves him some Amtrak. He traveled frequently — sometimes nightly — on the Northeast Corridor line, arguably the only line Amtrak currently operates that makes logistical sense. Now, according to The Washington Post, he wants to spend $75 billion over 15 years to revitalize a government-owned long-haul passenger rail monopoly that has not (and likely will never) turn a profit.
To make his case, he keeps on trotting out poor Angelo Negri in a story that’s easily fact-checked out of the water by any media entity that bothers to do it.
All this does is reinforce the conception that Biden is a chronic fabulist — including on higher-stakes stories like his Nelson Mandela lie.
I’m not 4, Mr. President, and you’re not America’s dad. Stop it.
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