The Hill: Democrats dreading the debates -- and Biden's fact-checking abilities

Gee, I wonder why Democrats might not have faith in Joe Biden’s ability to correct the record. Could it be because Biden has a long history of fogging it up — and then forgetting when he’s been caught? In last night’s town hall on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Biden whether he’s benefited from “white privilege,” and he responded by telling Cooper that he was the first in his family to attend college while taking a swing at Donald Trump for the silver spoon in his mouth:


COOPER: Mr. Vice President, Bob Woodward asked President Trump about white privilege and whether or not he benefited from it. And the President said, no, I don’t feel that way at all and sort of mock Bob Woodward. Do you see ways that you’ve benefited from white privilege?

BIDEN: Sure, I’ve benefited just because I don’t have to go through what my black brothers and sisters have had to go through, number one. But number two, you know, grow up parents, Scranton. We’re used to guys to look down their nose at us. We’re looked at people who look at us and think that we’re suckers, look at us and they think that we don’t, we’re not equivalent to them. If you didn’t have a college degree, you must be stupid. If in fact, you didn’t get to go to an Ivy school. Well, I tell you, it bothered me to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s my Scranton roots. I don’t know. But when you guys started talking on television about Biden, if he wins, we’ll be the first person without a Ivy League degree to be elected president. I think, who the hell makes you think I have to have an Ivy League degree to be president and I really mean it. I found my backup. No, I’m not joking. I’m not joking. Like, guys like me, were the first in my family to go to college. Up here, my dad busted his neck. My dad came up here, worked here, lost his job, like a lot of people did here used to be a bad joke in the ’60s in Scranton, everybody’s not — no one in Scranton, everybody’s from Scranton, because so many people lost their jobs.

We are as good as anybody else. And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people who are busting their neck.


Not only is that claim untrue, Biden had previously acknowledged it to be untrue. He first trotted out that claim in 1987 during his first run for the presidency, a claim that came from Biden’s plagiarism of speeches by British Labour politician Neil Kinnock. Mollie Hemingway jumps into the Wayback Machine to recall the episode:

Back in 1987, The New York Times published Biden’s quote admitting that was not true:

In addition, Mr. Biden said … 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.’

Among others, his great-grandfather attended college at a time in which fewer than 2 percent of college-aged men and women in the United States did so. Now it’s around 60 percent.

Biden got caught by E.J. Dionne practically lifting this claim word for word from Kinnock, and more:

In the commercial, the Briton began, ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” Then pointing to his wife in the audience, he continued: ”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?”

Senator Biden began his remarks by saying the ideas had come to him spontaneously on the way to the debate. ”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?” he said. Then, pointing to his wife, he continued: ”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 his speech, Mr. Kinnock, an orator of great eloquence, rhetorically asked why his ancestors, Welsh coal miners, did not get ahead as fast as he. ”Did they lack talent?” he asked, in his lilting rhythm. ”Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions? Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? Weak?”

Senator Biden’s Irish relations, it would seem, were similar, though they seemed to stay underground longer.

”Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse?” continued Mr. Biden, whose father was a Chevrolet dealer in Wilmington. ”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?”


Nor was that Biden’s only bout with plagiarism. As Hemingway notes, today is the 33rd anniversary of Biden’s admission of plagiarizing in law school, although he told Dionne at the time that it wasn’t malevolent plagiarism … whatever that means:

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.


That’s a nonsense argument; any undergrad then and even now would have understood the rules of citing one’s sources properly, and anyone who made it all the way through to law school would have been experienced with those rules. Needless to say, though, Biden’s later plagiarism rendered the not malevolent argument moot. And his sudden regurgitation of a claim Biden first drew by plagiarizing Kinnock either means that Biden didn’t actually regret plagiarizing Kinnock as much as he regretted getting caught at it, or he’s forgotten that he got caught at all.

That’s what has Democrats worried, Amie Parnes writes at The Hill. They see his only chance of success in the debates will be in acting like a fact-checker against Trump, but he’s hardly one with any standing on which to call shenanigans. Plus, they’re worried that Biden is no longer up to the task, mentally speaking:

“The only way he ‘wins’ is if he stays on offense,” another ally added. “The second it goes the other way, things could go sideways.”

Fact-checking Trump live is a challenge for anyone, even when you’re not on stage in a make-or-break debate for the presidency.

There is a palpable fear among some Democrats about whether Biden is up for the challenge and whether being too aggressive could backfire. They’ve cringed when Biden has given long-winded answers or trailed off without returning to his initial thought and when he’s gone off message or said the wrong name or city. …

Even those closest to Biden acknowledge that it takes him awhile to get warmed up and the early statements are never his best.

“He has a tendency to wrap up very well, but he’s one of those people who takes some time to get there,” said one close Biden ally. “He’s just not a guy who performs well in those initial moments. I think that’s something that makes us all a little nervous.”


Indeed. Given all of this, and Biden’s tendency to get lost in his own answers, one has to seriously question the wisdom of a strategy that makes Biden completely reactive to Trump. The campaign can fact-check Trump in real time on social media (and should do the same with Biden, but almost certainly won’t). Biden would do best in these debates by taking the high road and focusing on his own agenda and platform while taking shots at Trump’s record in office. If Biden starts getting into a shouting match with Trump, Biden’s going to get steamrolled. And he might not even realize it when it happens.

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John Stossel 12:00 AM | June 21, 2024