Biden forgot lesson of twenty years ago

Senator Joseph Biden withdrew from the Democratic presidential campaign last week after reports that he had plagiarized a paper in law school 20 years ago, plagiarized other politicians in his speeches and falsely enhanced his academic record.

Law students know when they write a paper in a professor’s field of expertise that the professor will know almost immediately when they’ve passed off as their own an idea or analysis far beyond their level of sophistication in the subject area. Obviously, Biden’s professor knew—he got caught.

One could argue that the use of another’s words in a political speech is not an unforgivable offense. After all, there is no real “original thought.” Well-known people get quoted all the time, and credit is often not given where it’s due. The person quoting might not even know where they got the idea in the first place.

There is a saying that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. Biden obviously holds such men as British politician Neil Kinnock and the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy in very high esteem. But he should have credited them—all it takes is adding, “as Robert Kennedy said in …” at the beginning of the borrowed material.

For instance, turn to page seven. As anyone can see, the basic idea for this editorial came from today’s column by Washington Post writer William Raspberry.

ad Biden given credit where it was due, he would have been admired for his ability to take old ideas and apply them to new situations. He would have been admired for his honesty in admitting that other men had said some things better than he could.

As for enhancing his academic record, Joe Biden is lucky he doesn’t practice law in Illinois. Record enhancement—lying on a resume or to an employer about law school grades, class rank or work experience—is taken very seriously here. The Illinois Supreme Court disbars attorneys for that.

It was a genuine lack of good judgment that got Biden into trouble. He didn’t think about what he was doing—or he didn’t care. Maybe he just never thought he’d get caught. His law school experience should have taught him otherwise.