The wacky plagiarisms of Joe Biden.

Media criticism.
Aug. 25 2008 6:46 PM

What Kind of Plagiarist Is Joe Biden?

The unusually creepy kind.

Also in Slate: David Greenberg argued that Joe Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten. Shmuel Rosner examined the "erratic pragmatism" of Biden's Middle East policy.

Joe Biden.

Joe Biden's return as a vice-presidential candidate signals forgiveness—at least from Barack Obama—for having plagiarized a leading British politician during Biden's campaign for the Democratic Party's 1988 presidential nomination.

The Biden episode merits revisiting because as acts of plagiarism go, it was spectacular, and because it points to other dicey chapters in his life. To know Biden in full, you must appreciate his parts.

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Biden's puttering campaign for president effectively died on Sept. 13, 1987, when the New York Times' Maureen Dowd reported that he had pinched major elements of a recent and celebrated speech by Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. That speech, included in this May 1987 Labor Party broadcast, begins at the 7:23 mark.

But Biden didn't merely borrow words and phrasings from Kinnock, which is a time-honored practice of candidates and their speechwriters and is almost never regarded as plagiarism. He became Kinnock, as David Greenberg writes today, claiming things about himself and his family that were untrue and that he knew to be untrue.

In his closing remarks at an Aug. 23, 1987, debate at the Iowa State Fair *, Biden said:

I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?

Biden then gestured to his wife and continued:

Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?

Kinnock had said:

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?