Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Real Issue with 'The Kinnock Thing'

In 1988, Sen. Joe Biden's bid for the Presidency combusted, in large part due to controversy surrounding a speech he gave about the pain and anguish of his coal miner ancestors.

While Biden is no stranger to maudlin emotional displays, his campaign did not implode because of the subject itself, but because of the controversy that emerged after it was revealed that his speech was lifted almost entirely from Labour Party Leader Neal Kinnock, the standard-bearer for his party in the 1983 and 1987 general elections that saw Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives maintain their grip on power in the UK.

I don't think that should be a big issue -- then or now.

Politicians -- much like stand-up comedians -- are always going to be subject to charges of plagiarism, and even more so in the era of instant Google searches and clever YouTube splicing displays.

When you speak all day, you're guaranteed to eventually say something someone else already said -- and when you're not the one writing the material, it's especially not your fault.

That's something Joe Biden and I could agree on. And much like the masterful "issue diversion" we saw with Jim McGreevey in 2004*, we may see it again here -- when this comes up, Joe Biden will divert us towards the non-issue (plagiarism) and thusly away from the larger and more disturbing issue -- the fact that Joe Biden would make an emotional speech about his coal miner ancestors when he DIDN'T EVEN HAVE ANY.

I know politicians can get carried away in the passion of the moment, but I have serious questions about the megalomania and just the general mental well-being of someone who can seriously deliver passionate personal speeches about something -- even to the point of getting choked-up -- when the subject matter is just, well, false.

My dad very nearly could have died on 9/11. In fact, had the attacks come just slightly later in the day, he almost certainly would have. That's the truth of the matter. But if I went around saying that I was a family member of a 9/11 victim, or started implying that the day's events had unfolded differently for my family, I think you would have a very reasonable justification to question my mental health and general sense of reality. If I then tried to cover for it by saying, "Well, I was just trying to broadly sympathize with those who did," or some such silly work-around, I would think my credibility would only drop even further.

So, I find it natural to wonder a little bit about Joe Biden.

* Amazingly, and with a sympathetic media in tow, Gov. McGreevey was able to divert attention from the real issue -- the fact that he had appointed a foreign national with no security clearance to New Jersey's top Homeland Security position -- by focusing on his need to stand up and defend himself from those who were against him because of his identity.


KD said...

After being away for a month, it is good to see you again. I look forward to more of your insights as this election season continues.

The New Englander said...


Glad to have you back! And if you ever want to read THE definitive account of the 1988 Pres. election -- and one of the best political books ever -- go to Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes." It's a serious monster, though..900+ pages of no joke!