Joe Biden is definitely a character—but does he have character?
I wonder whether Barack Obma’s vetters, Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder, knew what they were doing when they settled on Joe Biden. Journalists and McCain opposition researchers must be logging on to Nexis and searching 1987-1988 using the key words “Biden and plagiarism. “ There is a feast of material—I have culled examples from various print and electronic sources– that would make even the most partisan Obama backer question the wisdom of this choice.
Biden, then 44, was forced out of the 1988 presidential race-—he officially dropped out on September 23, 1987– just when his candidacy seemed to be taking off in Iowa, the all important first caucus, and just as he seemed to be gaining on Michael Dukakis, the eventual nominee.
(Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 from Delaware. He was only 29, and was one of the two youngest men ever elected to the Senate.)
A Dukakis staffer noticed and fed to Maureen Dowd, then a New York Times reporter, not yet the paper’s celebrated columnist, that Biden had lifted almost verbatim his closing remarks at a debate at the Iowa state fairgrounds in August, 1987. The lines were lifted from a passionate speech delivered by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock (who would go on to lose to Margaret Thatcher).
Here’s Kinnock: ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? . . . Was it because all our predecessors were thick? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? Weak? . . . It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.”
Not only did Biden not credit Kinnock, he told his audience in the classic liar’s technique of burnishing a lie with detail: “I started thinking as I was coming over here, “Why is it that Joe Biden’s the first in his family ever to go to a university? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? . . . Is it because they didn’t work hard, my ancestors who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?,,,, It’s because they didn’t have a platform upon which to stand.”
Biden was not the first member of his family to go to college, and the closest his ancestors came to a coal min was a grandfather who was a mining engineer. (Biden’s father was wealthy as a young man, lost his money and had to work hard to support his family. He had a variety of jobs, including one managing a Chevrolet dealership in Wilmington, Delaware. The Bidens were far from rich but they were middle class.)
Once Maureen Dowd broke that story on the front page of the Times on September 12, 1987, it spread quickly through newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The dam holding back Biden’s exaggerations and penchant for lifting words from others broke, and he nearly drowned in his own deceit.
Biden also lifted words from Bobby Kennedy’s speeches—paragraphs that political junkies prized so much they knew them by heart.
Here’s RFK: ”Few will have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
Here’s Joe Biden: ”Well, few of us have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can act to affect a small portion of events, and in the totality of these acts will be written the history of this generation.”
Bobby Kennedy: ”The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
Here’s Joe Biden, who overcame a stutter as a boy and grew into an excellent speaker: “’We cannot measure the health of our children, the quality of their education, the joy of their play….It doesn’t measure the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, the integrity of our public officials. It counts neither our wit nor our wisdom, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country….That bottom line can tell us everything about our lives except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America except that which makes us proud to be Americans.”
Biden said at the time that RFK was “the man who I guess I admire more than anyone else in American politics.” No doubt about that.
Chicago’s own Bill Daley was among those who urged Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to get out of the race and concentrate on defeating Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Appeals Court Judge Robert Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court. Biden, who was about to open the Bork hearings, had asked Daley to take a leadership spot in his campaign.
Anyone following the campaign could see there was something eating at Joe Biden. He needed desperately for people to see him as the smartest guy in the room, and that, coupled with his hot temper and surging insecurities, resulted in the following which was captured on C-SPAN in 1987. Although more than 20 years old, the exchange will no doubt find its way into political advertising.
On April 3, 1987, at a campaign stop in Claremont, New Hampshire, a voter named Frank innocently asked Biden what law school he attended and how he performed there. “I think I have a much higher IQ than you do,” Biden, who went to Syracuse University College of Law, answered. “I went to law school on a full academic scholarship.” He told the astonished man that while he admittedly did not do well his first year because he didn’t want to be in law school, he did much better his second and third years and “ended up in the top half” of his class. I won the international moot-court competition.”
Without being asked, Biden then boasted about his performance in college (at the University of Delaware), telling Frank that he had been named the “outstanding student in the political-science department. . . I graduated with three degrees from college . . . And I’d be delighted to sit back and compare my IQ to yours if you’d like, Frank.”
There were a number of lies in this outburst and it was not long before they too were enumerated:
–Biden got in trouble in 1965, during his first year in law school. He wrote a paper in which he lifted five pages verbatim from the Fordham Law Review. He was given an “F” in the course. He managed to avoid being bounced from law school, retook the course and earned a “B.” (He had to repeat two other law school courses, although not for plagiarizing.)
– He claimed that he was “the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship.” He didn’t. He did have a half scholarship that was need based.
–He did not graduate from law school in the top half of his class. He graduated 76th out of 85—and he was near the bottom of his class all three years.
–If he won the moot court competition—and he claimed at the time that he actually did–he did not put it on his resume, surprising for a man prone to so egregiously exaggerating his accomplishments.
–He did not win the award for being the outstanding student in the political science department at Delaware, and he graduated with one degree, not three. He had a “C” average and graduated 506th in a class of 688.
At the time, he told a reporter, “I exaggerate when I’m angry.”
There are other weird outbursts by Biden in more recent years, grandstanding questions to Supreme Court nominees in which it’s impossible to find the question, but not hard to find all kinds of personal information about the Senator from Delaware. One example comes from Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearing in 2006. When it was Biden’s turn to question Alito, he mentioned that his daughter had applied or been accepted—not clear which in Biden’s ramblings — to graduate school at Princeton, but decided instead to go to the University of Pennsylvania. Biden showed up at the hearing wearing a Princeton hat. Keith Olbermann asked, “Will the hat hurt his hairplugs?”
And that leads to the easy warning that I’ve been telling friends for years, “Never trust a man who gets hairplugs.” The insecurity is right there in the peculiar set of his hair—for all to see. Apparently Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder missed it.
Carol Felsenthal is a regular columnist for The Chicago Daily Observer