The only practical explanation for Biden's plagiarism is he guessed that being Kinnock on the stump would be more compelling for his audience than merely citing him. And he was probably right. Anecdotes about how a British politician made a success of himself thanks to Labor Party policies would hardly encourage an American voter to pull the lever for Joe Biden. Biden plagiarized because, like most plagiarists, he was unsatisfied with his own, honest material and decided that the payoff was worth the risk.
Another time-honored defense of plagiarists is that the incident was a one-off. But in Biden's case, we know that's not true. As E.J. Dionne Jr. reported in the previously mentioned Times article, he "plagiarized a law review article for a paper he wrote in his first year at law school" at the Syracuse University College of Law. According to a Dec. 1, 1965, report by the law school, five pages of Biden's 15-page paper were copied without quotation or attribution.
Biden's defense? He told Dionne—and his professors at Syracuse at the time—that he misunderstood citation and footnoting rules. The Dionne piece is especially rich with other Bidenisms. The candidate accuses other presidential campaigns of digging up the Syracuse law school story, but he does not specify which campaigns engineered this smear.
If you give Biden the benefit of the doubt—and I don't—you'd expect that such a calamitous "mistake" from his youth would have seared into his mind the importance of keeping his mitts off of other people's words. That it didn't speaks terabytes about his character.
More from Slate magazine.