Newly declared third-time presidential candidate Joe Biden added to his list of gaffes over the weekend with a self-described “Freudian slip” that, unfortunately for the former vice president, connects to the downfall of his first presidential campaign.
In a moment highlighted by The Washington Examiner, at a fundraiser on Saturday Biden mixed up current British Prime Minister Theresa May with the first ever female British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Biden told attendees at the event Saturday that he had heard concerns about President Trump raised by some 14 heads of state, including “Margaret Thatcher,” who died on April 8, 2013.
“Margaret Thatcher, um, excuse me, Margaret Thatcher — Freudian slip,” said Biden, a line that reportedly brought some laughs. “But I knew her too,” he added before getting out the correct name: “The Prime Minister of Great Britain Theresa May.”
As the Examiner notes, Thatcher was prime minister when Biden first ran for president for the 1988 election cycle. Like his second presidential run 20 years later, his 1988 campaign ended in disappointment. Biden was forced to pull out of the race in late 1987 after he plagiarized a speech by U.K. Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who unsuccessfully challenged Thatcher in 1987.
In a piece for The New York Times published on September 12, 1987, Maureen Dowd reported on the scandal:
The Neil Kinnock commercial did not lead to electoral success last May in Britain, but the 10-minute spot of the Labor Party leader’s passionate speeches, against a cool soundtrack of Brahms, raised his approval rating by 19 points and became an instant classic.
On this side of the Atlantic, many Presidential campaign strategists of both parties greatly admired the way it portrayed Mr. Kinnock, who subsequently lost to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a man of character. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a Democratic hopeful, was particularly taken with it.
So taken, in fact, that he lifted Mr. Kinnock’s closing speech with phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact for his own closing speech at a debate at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23 – without crediting Mr. Kinnock.
Though Biden initially claimed his comments came to him on the way to the debate, the evidence was clear enough to force him to pull out of the race. Here’s a comparison of the passages (partial transcript via Dowd):
Kinnock: ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? 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?”
Biden: ”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? 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?”
Kinnock on his Welsh coal miner ancestors: ”Did they lack talent? 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 on his ancestors: “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?”
Kinnock (fists clinched): ”Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.”
Biden (one fist clinched): ”No, it’s not because they weren’t as smart. It’s not because they didn’t work as hard. It’s because they didn’t have a platform upon which to stand.”
The plagiarism scandal unearthed a past accusation against Biden from his time in law school, also documented by The New York Times (hyperlink added):
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.”