Biden’s Plagiarism: ”May You Have The Confidence Of A Mediocre White Man”
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I’ve always found Joe Biden and his travails mildly amusing. He’s not as hilarious as Donald Trump, but there are echoes. For example, he washed out of the 1988 presidential run because of repeated examples of plagiarism. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Trump reading somebody else’s stuff and thinking, “Wow, that’s really good, better than I could ever do. I should steal that.” Still, Biden’s defense of his plagiarism has a certain Trumpian air, in kind of a pathetic way.

From the New York Times’ news section in 1987:

Biden Admits Plagiarism in School But Says It Was Not ‘Malevolent’

By E. J. Dionne Jr., Special To the New York Times
Sept. 18, 1987

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., fighting to salvage his Presidential campaign, today acknowledged ”a mistake” in his youth, when he plagiarized a law review article for a paper he wrote in his first year at law school.

Mr. Biden insisted, however, that he had done nothing ”malevolent,” that he had simply misunderstood the need to cite sources carefully. And he asserted that another controversy, concerning recent reports of his using material from others’ speeches without attribution, was ”much ado about nothing.” …

The file distributed by the Senator included a law school faculty report, dated Dec. 1, 1965, that concluded that Mr. Biden had ”used five pages from a published law review article without quotation or attribution” and that he ought to be failed in the legal methods course for which he had submitted the 15-page paper.

The plagiarized article, ”Tortious Acts as a Basis for Jurisdiction in Products Liability Cases,” was published in the Fordham Law Review of May 1965. Mr. Biden drew large chunks of heavy legal prose directly from it, including such sentences as: ”The trend of judicial opinion in various jurisdictions has been that the breach of an implied warranty of fitness is actionable without privity, because it is a tortious wrong upon which suit may be brought by a non-contracting party.”

In his paper, Mr. Biden included a single footnote to the Fordham Law Review article.

In a letter defending himself, dated Nov. 30, 1965, Mr. Biden pleaded with the faculty not to dismiss him from the school.

”My intent was not to deceive anyone,” Mr. Biden wrote. ”For if it were, I would not have been so blatant.”

At another point, the young Mr. Biden said that ”if I had intended to cheat, would I have been so stupid?”

This was a popular defense back in the 1980s. For example, when Filipino dissident Benigno Aquino arrived at the Manila airport in 1983 to challenge dictator Ferdinand Marcos and was immediately gunned down, Marcos supporters argued that the wily strong man wouldn’t do anything so blatantly stupid.

… The faculty ruled that Mr. Biden would get an F in the course but would have the grade stricken when he retook it the next year. Mr. Biden eventually received a grade of 80 in the course, which, he joked today, prevented him from falling even further in his class rank. Mr. Biden, who graduated from the law school in 1968, was 76th in a class of 85.

The file also included Mr. Biden’s transcript from his days as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. In his first three semesters, his grades were C’s or D’s, with three exceptions: two A’s in physical education courses, a B in a course on ”Great English Writers” and an F in R.O.T.C. The grades improved somewhat later but were never exceptional.

As for the issue of borrowing speeches, Mr. Biden was insistent that he had done nothing wrong. He said it was ”ludicrous” to expect a politician to attribute all the quotations of others, and he cited two examples to support his argument.

One was from one of his adversaries for the Democratic nomination, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom Mr. Biden described as ”a friend.” Mr. Jackson, Mr. Biden said, has used the same part of a speech by Hubert H. Humphrey that Mr. Biden has been accused of improperly appropriating, and Mr. Jackson has called him to say so.

Robert F. Kennedy, another of those whose speeches have been echoed by Mr. Biden, also used passages without attribution, the Senator said.

Mr. Biden appealed to voters to accept him as ”a middle-class guy” who makes mistakes but tells the truth. Of his campaign chances, he said: ”It’ll all be dependent on the American people looking at me. They’re going to look at me and say, ‘Is Joe Biden being honest with me, or is Joe Biden not being honest with me?’

”I’m being honest,” Mr. Biden said firmly.

… In addition, Mr. Biden said that in his talks invoking that speech, by Neil Kinnock, the Labor Party leader, he had miscast some of his own forebears, painting them as having rather more humble origins than they in fact did. For example, borrowing Mr. Kinnock’s sentiments, Mr. Biden had said he was ”the first in his family ever to go to university.” In fact, Mr. Biden said today, ”there are Finnegans, my mother’s family, that went to college.”

Mr. Biden also appeared to signal a shift in the way he is casting himself politically, toward an image as a leader of the ordinary middle class rather than as a civil rights and antiwar firebrand.

”During the 60’s, I was, in fact, very concerned about the civil rights movement,” he said. But at another point he said, ”I was not an activist,” adding:

”I worked at an all-black swimming pool in the east side of Wilmington, Del. I was involved in what they were thinking, what they were feeling. But I was not out marching. I was not down in not out marching. I was not down in Selma. I was not anywhere else. I was a suburbanite kid who got a dose of exposure to what was happening to black Americans.”

In an address to the New Jersey Democratic State Convention on Sept. 13, 1983, Mr. Biden appeared to suggest that he had been deeply involved in civil rights battles.

”When I was 17, I participated in sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie houses,” he declared then. ”And my stomach turned upon hearing the voices of Faubus and Wallace. My soul raged on seeing Bull Connor and his dogs.”

Asked about the apparent inconsistency, Larry Rasky, the Senator’s press secretary, said that as a youth in Wilmington, Mr. Biden ”did participate in action to desegregate one restaurant and one movie theater.”

Near the end of his news conference, Mr. Biden issued a dramatic defense of the man he considers himself to be. He offered a kind of rebuttal to reporters who have insistently asked how, having once cast himself as the candidate of a ”new generation” who spoke often of the civil rights and antiwar movements, he could have done so with little record of participation in either movement as a young man. He called the queries ”bizarre.”

”When I was at Syracuse,” he said, ”I was married, I was in law school, I wore sports coats. You’re looking at a middle-class guy. I am who I am. I’m not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts. You know, that’s not me.”

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