Thirty-five years after President Biden derailed his first White House run amid plagiarism charges, his sister Valerie Biden Owens still can’t own up to the truth.
In 1987, when Biden was a senator from Delaware, he tried to pass off another politician’s material as his own — and then attempted to explain away the blatant steal with a tired excuse.
But, in her soon-to-be-published memoir, “Growing Up Biden” (Celadon), out April 12, Owens claims that Biden did nothing wrong.
Owens effusively praises her big brother, whose campaigns she managed for decades, as “an honorable man defined by his character.”
“To see my brother maligned on the one thing that had always been his calling card – his integrity – was devastating,” she writes.
But the scandal that cast doubt on Biden’s honesty was entirely his own fault.
It began at a Democratic debate in Iowa on Aug. 23, 1987, where Biden faced off against six other White House contenders. As a closing statement, he gave a ringing oration describing the hardscrabble family history that inspired his campaign:
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’s sitting out there in the audience, is the first in her family to ever go to college? …
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? 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 twelve hours and play football for four hours?
No … It’s because they didn’t have a platform upon which to stand.
But the words were not Biden’s, reporters soon found. They came, almost verbatim, from a speech delivered by Neil Kinnock, Britain’s Labour Party leader, three months earlier.
Kinnnock’s May 15 oration peaked with this fiery passage:
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’? Did they lack talent — those people who could sing, and play, and recite and write poetry? … Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? …
Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.
According to Owens, her brother was immediately horrified by the error. She writes in her book that Biden “realized it when he got offstage: ‘Jesus, I didn’t credit Kinnock … Should I go back and clarify it?’ He was anxious, exhausted. ‘Nah’ [an aide said]. So Joe let it go.”
Biden publicly told reporters he frequently quoted the passage on the campaign trail “and in all but one occasion, to the best of my knowledge, I attributed it directly to Kinnock.” But reporters uncovered multiple interviews and speeches in which Biden used Kinnock’s words without attribution.
What’s more, Biden did not just parrot Kinnock’s words and his fist-pumping delivery — he stole the Welsh MP’s family story as well.
In truth, Biden was not the first college graduate in his family. The president’s great-grandfather Edward F. Blewitt, a Pennsylvania state senator, held an engineering degree from Lafayette College.
Nor was Biden, the son of an auto salesman and grandson of an oil executive, the descendant of blue-collar coal miners.
In a Sept. 17 press conference that he called to repair the damage, Biden blamed his mistakes on a slip of the tongue. But when plagiarism allegations from Biden’s law-school days emerged, along with a cringe-inducing video of his verbal attack on a New Hampshire voter, his campaign was sunk. Biden withdrew from the race on Sept. 23.
“The Kinnock thing was the biggie,” Biden lamented to authors Jack Germond and Jules Witcover for their book, “Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars.” “And everything else then became believable.”
Thirty-five years later, Owens still insists her brother is incapable of fibbing.
“Our parents drilled it into our heads from birth that … we were expected to tell the truth—no matter what,” she writes. “The truth might be embarrassing or ugly or shameful sometimes, but my parents made us understand that truth is the only option.
“This ethos taught us everything we knew about what it meant to be a Biden.”