At a campaign event in Hampton, New Hampshire, on Sunday, presidential candidate Joe Biden jokingly referred to a young woman who asked him a question as a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier,” according to the Washington Post. There’s video of the incident, which began when 21-year-old student Madison Moore asked Biden to explain his poor showing in the Iowa caucuses:
Biden tackles a ‘mean question’ about electability after Iowa. pic.twitter.com/mhDaSHbXqU
— Cleve R. Wootson Jr. (@CleveWootson) February 9, 2020
Later, Biden’s spokespeople said the line was taken from a scene in a John Wayne movie in which a Native American chief refers to Wayne as a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier.” Biden has used the phrase, and attributed it to a John Wayne movie, in the past; at a 2018 campaign event for Heidi Heitkamp, Biden said the following about Heitkamp’s opponent Kevin Cramer:
As my brother who loves to use lines from movies, from John Wayne movies, there’s a line in a movie, a John Wayne movie where an Indian chief turns to John Wayne and says, “This is a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.”
There’s video of that, too:
By far, the most common question raised by Biden’s use of the phrase in New Hampshire has been, “What the hell is Joe Biden thinking calling a young woman ‘dog-faced’?” But running a close second is “Is there really a movie in which someone calls John Wayne a ‘lying, dog-faced pony soldier’?” The answer is a resounding “Maybe”: Wayne appeared in 180 movies over 50 years, and who knows what they called him in all of them? But it seems at least as likely that Biden is thinking of a different film: Pony Soldier, a 1952 western from director Joseph M. Newman starring Tyrone Power as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Pony Soldier,” in the context of the film, is a Native American nickname for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and although no one calls Power a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier,” a chief does say, “The pony soldier speaks with a tongue of the snake that rattles,” which isn’t far off:
Is that the scene—filtered through Joe Biden’s memory of his brother’s memory of an old Western—that inspired Joe Biden to call a young woman at one of his events a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” nearly 70 years later? We may never know, but one thing is certain: For Democrats who want to nominate a presidential candidate with a vast library of half-remembered old Westerns floating around in their brains, there’s only one choice.
Joe Biden Movies
Matthew Dessem is Brow Beat’s nights and weekends editor and the author of a biography of screenwriter and director Clyde Bruckman.
Slate · by Matthew Dessem · February 9, 2020