Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was great. As I write, he hasn’t given it yet, but these are my favorite parts:
"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
"These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and … his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since."
Everyone acts as though Biden’s outrageous plagiarism of British Labor Leader Neil Kinnock’s speech during the 1988 presidential campaign was just a mistake, a slip of the tongue. Biden, his defenders say, had credited Kinnock in other speeches, but simply forgot to add the attribution one time.
First, Biden had failed to mention Kinnock more than once. Second, it was not just a matter of adding an attribution. On the occasions when Biden failed to credit Kinnock, he also had to alter Kinnock’s speech to act as if he were describing the Biden family.
Kinnock said: "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is (my wife) 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?"
Biden said: "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? 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?"
Kinnock’s speech continued: "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?"
Biden’s speech continued: "Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? 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?" Biden’s Welsh accent was as phony as Madonna’s British accent.
If this were merely a failure to cite Kinnock, why was Labor Leader Neil Kinnock talking about the Biden family and the coal mines of Pennsylvania?
Biden not only lifted — as The New York Times reported — Kinnock’s "phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact," but also his entire life story.
Dismissing his theft of Kinnock’s speech, Biden said at the time: "So what if I didn’t attribute it to Kinnock? I can’t quite understand this. If I was making up who I was, then that’s one thing."
But Biden was making up who he was. And he was making up what kind of country this is.
The whole point of Kinnock’s speech was to denounce the English class structure, where his grandfather couldn’t get ahead, despite his talents. Thus, Kinnock concluded by saying his parents and grandparents couldn’t advance "because there was no platform upon which they could stand."
That has never been true in this country. We have no class structure. People do get ahead by being smart and working hard.
The other side of the coin is that those born well are perfectly capable of falling from their perch of privilege, as expressed in the peculiarly American expression: "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." Which is precisely what happened to the Biden family.
According to Vice Plagiarist Biden’s own autobiography, his father was to the manor born. Biden’s grandfather was an executive with the American Oil Co., and his father had all the advantages in life. "My dad," Biden writes in "Promises to Keep," "grew up well polished by gentlemanly pursuits. He would ride to the hounds, drive fast, fly airplanes. He knew good clothes, fine horses, the newest dance steps."
But, in the blunt language of the Vanity Fair election blog, "he pissed away his fortune and Joe and his siblings grew up in a decidedly, and proudly, working-class Catholic home."
So why was Biden concluding his Kinnock-"inspired" speech with clenched fist, claiming that his family "didn’t have a platform upon which to stand." The executive offices at the American Oil Co. sound like a pretty good platform.
The problem wasn’t that Biden’s father didn’t have a platform, but that he fell off the platform. Far from sharing Kinnock’s life story, the Biden family would have benefited from a strict British class system that holds up talentless aristocrats while keeping down the talented low-born.
No wonder the platform of the Democratic Party is to destroy capitalism: It allows people to get ahead on their talents and not their names.