Late last week while I was getting a haircut, I heard another customer say to his barber, “Let’s talk politics!” I cringed, fearing my ears were about to be flooded with some cultish, low-information nonsense. Sure enough, he said, “So, what do you think of Joe Biden? What’s his latest? He’s now going to cure cancer! What a moron! Sleepy Joe!” The customer and the barber shared a laugh as they high-fived each other, and that was the end of their entire political “discussion.”
The customer was referring to a comment Biden made at an Iowa rally earlier that week: “I’ve worked so hard in my career that I promise you, if I’m elected President, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes America: We’re going to cure cancer.” I found it interesting that just as Trump’s admission to George Stephanopoulos that he would welcome foreign collusion and not necessarily report it to the FBI was grabbing headlines, this customer zeroed in on Biden’s cancer comment as the epitome of presidential disqualification.
Days after my haircut, Donald Trump Jr. took the stage Tuesday night at his father’s reelection campaign kickoff in Orlando, Florida. He decided to lambast Biden for that same cancer comment, shouting with faux outrage: “What was the good one last week, remember? Joe Biden comes out, ‘Well, if you elect me President, I’m going to cure cancer.’ Wow! Why the hell didn’t you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?”
Biden’s pursuit of a cancer cure is no political stunt. In 2015, he lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer, then spent the remainder of his term as Vice President running the White House Cancer Moonshot before launching the Biden Cancer Initiative Pulse on Progress in early 2017. Politicians often make promises in highly aspirational terms in an effort to convey confidence and leadership. You can argue that politicians who do this are making promises they know they can’t keep in a shameless attempt to win votes. So, you can criticize Biden for not having said something more along the lines of “We’re going to work tirelessly to cure cancer” instead of “We’re going to cure cancer.” Or you can take no issue with such statements, arguing that these candidates are well intentioned and their meaning is obvious.
But you can’t exactly do both. Shortly after Don Jr. condemned Biden for promising to cure cancer, Trump inadvertently thrust his son into an oddly embarrassing position. Outdoing Biden, Trump declared: “We will push onward with new medical frontiers. We will come up with the cures to many, many problems, to many, many diseases — including cancer and others, and we’re getting closer all the time. We will eradicate AIDS in America once and for all and we’re very close.” It is now hard to imagine Don Jr. bringing up Biden’s cancer comment again with any credibility. But I know a barber who will probably listen.