It is an unlikely and I certainly thought long forgotten tale.
The time: September, 1987.
The characters in this story: Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd, the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy — and me.
To begin, Biden. The then young Senator from Delaware, a rising star for the Democrats since his election to the Senate in 1972 at the age of thirty, was very much in the news that September. First, he was a popular and viable candidate for his party’s 1988 presidential nomination. The field that year included such as 1984 nomination runner-up Gary Hart, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Tennessee Senator Al Gore and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. The campaign had been on in earnest for months, and the very eloquent young Senator Biden was in fact getting traction with his oratorical skills.
Biden was also getting a significant boost from the fact that President Reagan had decided to nominate Judge Robert Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court. The Senator was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the hearings, now legend for their brutal treatment of Bork that began from the moment Reagan made the appointment, were ready to begin with Biden holding the gavel.
Darting back and forth between Washington and the campaign trail, Biden was decidedly in the public eye. Unfortunately, as with all presidential candidates, he had rivals who were unhappy about both his prominence and his success with primary audiences. An aide to Massachusetts Governor Dukakis had also noticed something about Biden’s rhetoric. One speech in particular had been plagiarized straight from the then leader of the British Labour Party, the Right Honorable Neil Kinnock. The Dukakis aide had a video of Kinnock, and one of Biden repeating the same speech, changing only the locale to make a Welsh coal miner into a Scranton coal miner. Leaked anonymously, the good ship Biden was barely scraped with this political shot across the bow. Biden said it was an accident that he had not made attribution to Kinnock, and for the moment, the story faded.
Sitting quietly in my White House office where I worked as a young political aide to President Reagan, I knew with certainty that what Biden had said about this being some sort of mistake was, to put it politely, untrue. I knew this because as a kid I was a deeply enthusiastic fan of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, brother to JFK and Teddy. RFK’s 1968 presidential campaign had ended with his assassination. But in the style of the day, phonograph records of his speeches were shortly everywhere, along with a cascade of books. I not only bought them all with earnings from my high school jobs, politically precocious kid that I was, I took great care to memorize those records. To this day I can remember sitting for hour after hour listening to those Bobby Kennedy speeches until they were practically burned into my brain (such as my brain was in those days!).
Unfortunately for Senator Biden, months before the Kinnock controversy had arisen I had heard him on C-SPAN delivering a speech to a group of Democrats in California. I was stunned. Why? Because I realized as I watched Biden that I was getting to the end of his sentences before he was. Up from the mists of my teenage years, every sound, every memory of those Bobby Kennedy speeches came rushing out in a torrent. Most startling of all, it was very, very clear that Joe Biden was leaving the impression with these on-fire California Democrats that every last word he was uttering was — Joe Biden’s. Of Bobby Kennedy there was not a word. I was witnessing out and out plagiarism.
WHAT TO DO? Looking back I am amused about the steadiness of my youthful idealism. While I had evolved from an RFK enthusiast to a decided Reaganite — and not to put too fine a point on it I was actually working for my hero in the White House — my idealism was very much intact. I was incensed at Biden for expropriating Bobby Kennedy’s words without so much as a nod. Yet — the caution of a thirty-something political aide showing — the good Senator was in fact in charge of Judge Bork’s fate. What would he do to Judge Bork if I somehow decided to go public with this? Nothing, I convinced myself, that Biden and his liberal lobbyist friends weren’t doing already. The word had yet to be coined, but along with everybody else in Washington I knew Judge Bork was being borked. It was appalling. And it was being led by Joe Biden. So…
I picked up the phone and did what Robert Redford did in that old Three Days of the Condor movie. When all is lost, spill your guts to the New York Times. In my case, I went to then-reporter (and now NYT columnist) Maureen Dowd. We’d never met. She drove Reaganites crazy. But she had been covering Biden, and I liked her writing. So Mo Dowd it was.
Her voice was careful at first. Cautious and skeptical in the way of a liberal reporter getting a call from a Reagan White House type. I explained my tale. Told her of my RFK and JFK-worship as a teenager and how I memorized all those hours of RFK speeches. When I told her that I could prove beyond question that Biden had simply been lifting RFK’s words whole cloth she burst out laughing, saying something to the effect that this was just too good to be true. It seems (as I recall this all these years later) that the Biden staff had been irritated by the good Ms. Dowd as well. They had even gone to the point of making her life difficult as she sought to cover the Bork hearings. Maureen would love my records and would promise to return them in the mint condition in which I still had them. Telling her specifically which speech of RFK’s had been used, and when and where Biden had done this, I delivered my treasured albums unto the New York Times. And waited.
It didn’t take long.
Within days Ms. Dowd had a front page story, appearing on September 16, 1987. It appeared above-the-fold just under the photo of Judge Bork defending himself in front of Biden’s Senate Judiciary Committee, flanked by ex-President Gerald Ford and Senator Bob Dole. The headline:
BIDEN IS FACING GROWING DEBATE ON HIS SPEECHES
Inside the fold, where the Times then covered all its campaign news, there I was in the continuation. Dowd described me accurately as a “devout Robert Kennedy fan as a youth who keeps a Jamie Wyeth portrait of John Kennedy in his office at the Reagan White House.” It mentioned that I knew RFK’s speeches “by heart.” And told all the rest.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?