As the great Tom Lehrer once sang, “Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize, only be sure always to call it please research.” Thirty-two years ago, Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign ran aground on charges of plagiarism … among other issues. The specter of Lobachevsky has arisen in Biden’s campaign again, Politico reported late yesterday, only this time it’s moved from Neil Kinnock’s coal mines to the Green New Deal.
Josh Nelson, vice president at the progressive group CREDO, first flagged the similarities on Twitter. The text contained the same language about technology designed to capture and store power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions as documents previously released by the nongovernmental organization Center for Climate and Energy Solutions as well as the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental and labor groups. …
Biden’s plan appeared to lift a sentence that said “Carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) is a rapidly growing technology that has the potential to create economic benefits for multiple industries while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” which matched language the BlueGreen Alliance had used in a letter to Congress.
News organization the Daily Caller also flagged other passages in the Biden climate plan: one on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel that looked similar to language from a Vox story; another on aging sewer infrastructure that resembled wording from environmental group American Rivers; and another on the risks warming temperatures pose to native Alaskan tribes that mirrored government website Climate.gov.
As plagiarism scandals go, this one might be on the mild side. In 1987, Biden got caught lifting passages wholesale from Kinnock’s speeches, including those relating to the British politician’s family. Biden delivered those speeches personally, relating them as his own thoughts and experiences. When the New York Times discovered the fraud, it popped Biden’s balloon and his inflated ego … at least for a time.
It seems doubtful that Biden does his own website coding or writing, so it’s not a direct reflection on him. That doesn’t mean it’s not still plagiarism, of course — using someone else’s writing without citations is still stealing, but the thief in this case is likely a staffer. Biden will have to claim that he didn’t have anything to do with writing his own climate-change plan, which will be amusing enough and reinforce the impression that he’s a phony, but it’s not a campaign-crushing scandal.
The campaign retroactively credited the original authors. It was all just an oversight, they assured the media:
“Several citations, some from sources cited in other parts of the plan, were inadvertently left out of the final version of the 22 page document,” a Biden spokesperson said in an email. “As soon as we were made aware of it, we updated to include the proper citations.”
The NYT warned that we might see Joe Biden’s Greatest Hits on this third attempt to win the presidential nomination. Matt Flegenheimer wrote on Monday that there’s not much evidence that Biden has learned anything from the first two:
Mr. Biden was, and remains, a “gut politician,” as he has long told associates — swaggering, ad-libbing, liable to get carried away in front of a crowd. Already this year, he has boasted of his purportedly peerless foreign policy knowledge, comparing himself favorably to Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state. He has suggested, implausibly, that he has the most progressive record in the 2020 field. He has muddled through explanations of his treatment of Anita Hill when she accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, at times stopping himself midsentence to abandon a line of defense.
Biden allies insist this run will succeed where his others failed. His discipline has improved, they say. He is now widely known and admired in the Democratic Party, affording him more latitude for slip-ups. For the first time, he enters the race as a genuine favorite, requiring no introduction.
But interviews with top advisers and confidants from then and now help explain how Mr. Biden came to see himself as presidential material in the first place, and suggest that the central tensions and vulnerabilities laid bare during Biden ’88 remain the most urgent questions at the core of Biden 2020:
Can he credibly present himself as a man in step with the times without sounding off-key or stretching the truth, as he did while gilding his 1960s-era biography?
Er, no, probably not. While this incident doesn’t involve Biden directly, it does show that his campaign seems desperate to keep up with the cool kids on issues like climate change — and that Biden isn’t giving them much to work with.