If you’re a younger reader, your first exposure to Joe Biden is probably his time as Barack Obama’s second-in-command. You may not have known that 20 years earlier, he could have been the guy sitting at the Oval Office desk rather than the one standing beside it.
Biden was one of the Democratic contenders for president in 1988 and, unlike now, he was seen as an antidote to the Democratic establishment.
“The Democrats had taken two shellackings at the hands of Reagan, and there was this thought, not really based on a lot of facts, that the Democrats were too soft, too feminine, too much into interest politics, and Biden was seen by his own people as an antidote to that — good looking and athletic — who would come across as stronger,” Time reporter Laurence I. Barrett, who covered the campaign 1988, told another Time reporter in a 2019 interview.
Unfortunately for Biden, that campaign died in its early months when it turned out he plagiarized a speech from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without giving him attribution. Media scrutiny revealed Biden had plagiarized other politicians on the stump, and thusly was his campaign torpedoed before a single vote had been cast.
While it’s difficult to guess what would have happened had Biden won the nomination — and he was certainly the favorite before the plagiarism scandal — he would have been a stronger candidate against George H.W. Bush than the Democrats’ nominee that year was — the wholly ineffectual Michael Dukakis.
Thirty-two years and one generational health crisis later, Joe Biden hasn’t really learned his lesson.
On Thursday, Biden slammed the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus. This was disheartening, if unsurprising. He then told the crowd his plan to fight coronavirus — which was almost exactly what the president had been proposing.
First, Biden’s condemnation of the administration’s COVID-19 efforts, which came during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware.
“The administration’s failure on testing is colossal,” Biden said, according to Yahoo News. “It’s a failure of planning, leadership and execution.
“We have to help the world to drive coordinated global strategy, not shut ourselves out from the world. Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcoming of the current administration.”
He also criticized the administration’s European travel ban and claimed Trump’s reference to COVID-19 as a “foreign virus” — which is objectively true, since the outbreak started in a foreign country — was evidence of bigotry.
“Neither should we panic or fall back on xenophobia. … labeling [the coronavirus] a foreign virus does not displace accountability for misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump admin,” Biden said. “Coronavirus does not have a political affiliation.”
He said this with a straight face during a speech where he was using coronavirus as a political bludgeon. Well, whatever. Nobody seemed to really notice, given that the speech was well-received by the usual voices:
It’s a very good speech–and a reminder of what the traditional presidency would emphasize at a moment like this. https://t.co/BaUTBDVq54
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) March 12, 2020
Joe Biden delivered a call for swift and urgent action to combat the coronavirus outbreak, in a speech that rebuked the Trump administration’s isolationist response and sought to preview how he would steer the nation through a crisis as its presidenthttps://t.co/xFrYlohSgT
— POLITICO (@politico) March 12, 2020
WILMINGTON, Delaware—@joebiden‘s coronavirus speech was designed to look presidential. It worked.
My dispatch from inside the room: https://t.co/fPLipCDtCZ
— Hanna Trudo (@HCTrudo) March 12, 2020
The thing was, as Trump’s campaign pointed out, much of Biden’s “presidential” coronavirus plan was stolen from another president — namely, the current one.
“Joe Biden’s coronavirus remarks today sounded awfully familiar. Listening to him, we felt a sense of déjà vu,” the campaign declared on its website. “Here’s why: Biden blatantly ripped off President Trump, and bizarrely called on him to do things he has in fact already done.
“Joe Biden said ‘no efforts should be spared’ to get private labs and universities working to rapidly expand testing for coronavirus.
“President Trump already acted on this weeks ago, ordering the FDA to allow hundreds of private labs and academic hospitals to rapidly begin testing for coronavirus.
“Joe Biden said that small businesses will need relief from coronavirus’ economic impact.
“President Trump already moved decisively to provide $50 billion in liquidity to small business owners, and is asking Congress for even more.
“Joe Biden said it is critical for insurance companies to waive copays for coronavirus testing.
“President Trump already got it done, securing a commitment from the nation’s insurance providers to waive all copays on coronavirus testing and expand coverage of coronavirus treatment in all their benefit plans. “
Perhaps most critically, Biden said it was time to “accelerate” the search for a coronavirus vaccine — something the Trump administration had already done in January. According to CNBC, officials fast-tracked the vaccine with the hope of clinical trials in three months, although officials admitted this was an optimistic timeline. If there was a way to faster-track this, Biden didn’t make that clear.
Stealing ideas isn’t necessarily academic plagiarism, but stealing the ideas of a man you’re excoriating isn’t a good look.
The Thursday speech was apparently Biden’s presidential moment. If you wanted to look at it uncritically, it was. Democrats have always been able to project their idea of a perfect president on Biden, even if he isn’t presidential material.
Looking closer, 32 years hasn’t changed Biden much. He’s still stealing ideas, if not exact words. At least with Neil Kinnock, it was an ideological ally.
By the way, as the Trump campaign pointed out, Biden’s already been in a position where he could reassure the public in the face of a pandemic. He failed miserably.
“In the past, Joe Biden has shown terrible judgment and incompetence in the face of public health issues,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump campaign communications director, said in a statement.
“The Obama White House had to publicly apologize for and clean up after Biden when his irresponsible remarks caused panic during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. Just weeks ago, he was openly critical of President Trump’s early move to restrict travel from China to the United States in response to the coronavirus – a decision which medical experts agree helped impede the spread of the virus to this country.”
“President @realDonaldTrump acted early and decisively… His every move has been aimed at keeping Americans safe, while Joe Biden has sought to capitalize politically and stoke citizens’ fears.” – @TimMurtaugh @TeamTrump statement on Biden’s coronavirus speech ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/nZHKt89nn3
— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) March 12, 2020
Even Politifact, a fact-checking organization that generally leans left-ish, rated the administration’s criticisms of Biden’s comments on the H1N1 virus 11 years ago as “Mostly True.”
While the Obama administration never issued an official apology for Biden’s remarks during the swine flu outbreak, his comments on it were both irresponsible and unscientific.
“When one person sneezes [the virus] goes all the way through the aircraft,” Biden said during an appearance on “Today.”
He also advised against taking the subway.
“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing; if you’re in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”
While there was an apology to those who were “unduly alarmed,” there was nothing in the way of an official apology.
Aside from that, all of that is true.
Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be so annoyed over his ideological plagiarism. By essentially copying the Trump plan, he’s co-signing it.
I’m not sure whether I should be comforted or alarmed by that, given Biden’s predilection for being totally wrong and his decision to politicize a national emergency, but at least he’s not talking about whole planes getting infected by coronavirus anymore.
That’s something, right?
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