As noted by my colleague Bonchie in this story earlier today, during the CNN Townhall show on Thursday Joe Biden seems to have — for a second time — taken events from the life of former British Labor Leader Neil Kinnock and made them part of his own biography. As Bonchie points out in his story, everyone in the media younger than 45 seems to lack any recollection of the events of 1987 when Biden declared his candidacy for President in June, only to withdraw from the race in September after it was revealed by the New York Times and Des Moines Register that Biden’s biography as delivered in his Iowa stump speeches that summer included significant events from the life of Kinnock – as described by Kinnock in his own speeches.
Following the two terms of the Reagan Presidency that reshaped Washington, there was a huge field of Democrat primary candidates anxious to challenge presumed GOP nominee VP George Bush. Biden, fresh off his role as Senate Judiciary Chairman in defeating the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, was among those considered to be at the very top of the new generation of Democrat leaders following the humiliation of the Humphrey/Mondale wing of the party in the 1984 election. Biden was considered “moderate” and an effective oral advocate for himself — a Senator who had never walked past a microphone without stopping to say something flattering about himself.
But that was ALWAYS Joe Biden’s biggest problem — he was willing to say pretty much anything about himself if he thought it enhanced his standing in the media or the Democrat Party. Here are some of the lines that drove him from the race in September 1987 when the NYT and Des Moines Register reported the plagiarism:
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? [Pointing to his wife Jill sitting in the audience] 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?
In May 1987, in a speech before the Welsh Labour Party, Neil Kinnock had delivered the following lines:
Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?
Obviously, this is from “pre-internet” days. Reporters couldn’t just run a Google search and dig out Kinnock’s speech to know that Biden had lifted the lines — and the biography — nearly verbatim. But some reporters recognized that Biden had used these lines before, and when he did he had attributed them to Kinnock — he didn’t claim them for his own. But it was also beyond dispute that in the instances cited by the NYT and Des Moines Register, Biden had personalized that part of the stump speech without referencing Kinnock — and several other aspects of Kinnock’s earlier speech — and claimed them for his own.
The easily verifiable truth was that Biden was not the first in his family to go to college. And Biden had not grown up in some “hardscrabble” life, although there was a period of time when Biden and his siblings resided with their grandparents when Biden’s father had trouble finding employment after World War II. But prior to that Biden’s father was a well-paid executive in a business that serviced the needs of the merchant marine fleet during the war. Part of his troubles with employment had to do with his alcoholism.
What came to be more widely understood in the aftermath of Biden’s departure from the race because of the controversy over Kinnock’s biography was that Biden was a serial offender, taking parts of speeches without attribution from other prominent Democrats over the years. Again, without the benefit of the internet, this took a decent amount of legwork by political reporters.
In a speech to the California Democratic Party Biden used without attribution passages from a speech given by Robert F. Kennedy had John F. Kennedy. In 1985 and 1986 Biden’s speeches used without attribution a passage from a 1976 speech by Hubert H. Humphrey. informed Biden of the source of the material.
As a part of the Kinnock controversy, it was revealed that Biden had been involved in a similar incident during his first year at Syracuse University School of Law in 1965. Biden initially received an “F” in an introductory class on the legal methodology for writing a paper relying almost exclusively on a single Fordham Law Review article, which he had cited only once.
Biden famously made other false claims about his academic record both as an undergrad and in law school. He should have been humiliated by the truth when it was exposed — both by the fact that no one would ask him to “teach” on any topic and by the fact that his willful lies about the subject were so easily revealed to be just that. But he wasn’t humiliated because he’d done worse than lie about his education.
Biden had a tendency to invent a past as a marcher in the Civil Rights Movement. In February 1987 he said, “When I marched in the civil rights movement, I did not march with a 12-point program. I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes.” He had made similar claims going back several years. Campaign advisors knew the claims were not accurate, but Biden said he understood yet continued to make them.
When pressed by reporters on the claims, Biden ultimately admitted that his “activism” in the Civil Rights Movement was limited to one episode, while working a summer job as a lifeguard, and joined black lifeguards in establishing a picket line around a local movie theater that had a segregation policy. He objected to reporters continuing to dig into this story saying, “I find y’all going back and saying, ‘Well, where were you, Senator Biden, at the time?’ – you know, I think it’s bizarre. … Other people marched. I ran for office.”
Joe Biden’s only life has been politics for 50 years. Politicians talk at audiences and they tell stories from their past. The words “Let me tell you about the time I ….” preface nearly every such story when it comes to Joe Biden. Those who have observed Biden over the course of his career recognize nearly every story he tells now as some version of stories he has told for decades. He has internalized them, and they pour forth whenever he opens his mouth because that his the life he has led as it exists today in his mind.
But, as was true in the Kinnock controversy, Joe Biden has never been that discerning when telling a story about whether it was actually part of his past, or it was something he picked up along the journey of life that sounded good so he adopted it as if it was part of his past. Fact and fiction are intermingled for the sole purpose of coming out with the best end result — in Joe’s mind.
The young Joe Biden knew the difference between the two but didn’t care — hence the fact that he acknowledged Neil Kinnock as the source of his famous remarks in 1987 on some occasions, but adopted them as his own biography without mentioning Kinnock on other occasions. The stories sounded good in the moment they were delivered so why not claim them as his own?
The problem now is that Dementia Joe no longer knows what parts of these internalized stories are his own, and what parts he has lifted from others along the way of his 50-year journey in politics. Fact and fiction have fused in his memory through repetition of delivery. His actual memories of events are clouded such that he can no longer confidently draw upon them, only the versions he has internalized as a result of telling the stories thousands of times over the years. This is evident in the way he mixes up words and syntax as he attempts to pour forth anecdotes that have come so easily to him in the past. Now he struggles to recall the scripts he has had memorized so clearly over the years in repeating all the “events” of his life — or someone else’s life as learned by him.
Dementia Joe knows he’s running for President. Dementia Joe knows that he’s been a prominent politician in the United States for nearly 50 years. Dementia Joe knows that he SHOULD know things of substance and significance. Dementia Joe knows the stories that are in his head, and that he should be able to tell just as he’s told them for decades. So he does.
But Dementia Joe no longer knows if those stories are all true, partly true, or not true at all.
Joe Biden knew, but didn’t concern himself with such unimportant details. But Joe Biden isn’t running for President.
Dementia Joe is on the ballot for the Democrat Party.