Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biden My Time

Stick to the script, Joe
As a former speechwriter for Neil Kinnock, reminders that Joe Biden plagiarised his words give me a warm glow

Ian Williams
guardian.co.uk, Saturday August 23 2008 17:16 BST

I have always felt a quasi-spiritual connection with Joe Biden, Barack Obama's choice as running mate. Google "plagiarism" and the poor Senator from Delaware always comes near the top of the search. As a former speechwriter for Neil Kinnock it gives me a warm glow that Neil's political career gets a much deserved resurrection and run around the houses every time Biden's past is raked up. I did not produce the immortal words that Biden borrowed, but, fittingly for my views on how Democratic primaries are a long drawn-out form of seppuku, it was an aide to his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis who incited the media feeding-frenzy by revealing Biden's highly inappropriate lifting, not only of Neil's words, but his biography as well.

And you have to admire someone like Biden who presented Kinnock with a book of his Senate speeches when he visited the House of Commons the following year. A sense of humour is rare in American politics, and Biden has one. How else could he have survived all those long decades on Capitol Hill?

He shares another oratorical characteristic with the former Labour leader, which is an inability to put a firm and terminal full-stop (or a period, in the US) at the end of his discourses.

Biden's long foreign policy experience and interest certainly meets Obama's alleged deficiencies in that field. In reality of course Obama is not so deficient compared with John McCain, so it is a bad sign that he may be appointing a real VP to beat a spurious shortcoming.

However, Biden and Obama seem to be on similar lines with the need to engage in diplomacy before sending in the gunboats. And read the conservative blogosphere on Biden as a creature of the UN – he even got married in the Methodist chapel at the UN - and you begin to think that he may have something going for him on the multilateral front.

Biden was pandering to Aipac long before Obama stepped to the podium to promise the world to the lobby, but is still on the more pragmatic side compared with McCain's "coalition of the yelling" on the issue.

And one presumes it was Biden's tendency to lean towards the Israel lobby which inclined him to support the Iraq war, which he did with some enthusiasm, even though he now regrets it. Certainly, having a son about to be deployed to Iraq puts him in a distinct minority among American politicians.

Biden also supports the embargo on Cuba, which has been Fidel's best excuse for mismanaging the island for all these decades. That sits uneasily with his call to engage constructively with China, the number one proponent of the death penalty, which Biden, to his credit, opposes. In fact, his position is remarkably close to Clinton's on this.

Similarly while one can admire the humanitarian fervor with which he insists that something must be done about Darfur, his favoured solution was to send US troops there. That would be as disastrous as it is impracticable. Quite apart from the question of where the troops would come from, it betrays a lack of appreciation of just how deep in the toilet the US's reputation is globally, let alone in the Arab world.

Clearly Biden may need some help. Nine years or so ago I was taken to lunch by a veteran Republican who asked how I would like to write speeches for George Bush. I replied that if Bush wanted speeches written advocating universal healthcare and a greater role for the UN, he could have them. I did not get the call. Neil Kinnock is now busy heading the British Council, but I am prepared to substitute. Joe, just drop me a line. But please, follow the script.

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