Two cases of plagiarism by politicians

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In the summer of 1987, a young, brash Delaware senator by the name of Joe Biden was attempting to become the youngest American since John F. Kennedy to become president of the United States.

The popular political figure was considered a strong contender for the office due to his moderate image, his energetic speaking ability, his appeal to Baby Boomers, his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the pending Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, and his fundraising talents. His major competitors for the Democratic nomination were Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and Missouri State Representative Dick Gephardt.

By the end of April 1987, he had raised more campaign funds than any other candidate, and his prospects for the nomination looked extremely good.

The momentum Biden had generated came to a screeching halt on September 12, however, when allegations of plagiarism from a speech delivered earlier in the year by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock were revealed in a high-profile article in the New York Times.

Although he had attributed the quote to Kinnock on previous occasions, Biden made no reference to the original source in statements before the Democratic debate at the Iowa State Fair on August 23 or in a speech before the National Education Association a few days later. Additional allegations of plagiarism followed, and even though he had paraphrased Kinnock’s remarks rather than quoting them verbatim, Biden quickly disappeared from the national spotlight.

It took 20 years for the ramifications of his indiscretion to subside and for him to overcome the plagiarism allegations and be selected as the Vice Presidential candidate in Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign.

Now comes Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R), who also has presidential aspirations and who has been dealing with a string of plagiarism allegations of his own over the past several weeks.

Recently, Paul has been shown to have borrowed lines, phrases, and entire paragraphs from Wikipedia articles and from position papers produced by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, and other sources in his speeches as well as his new book, titled Government Bullies. He was dismissed last week as a weekly columnist for the Washington Times over the plagiarism charges, with Times Editor John Solomon stating, “We expect our columnists to submit original work and to properly attribute material.”

For his part, Paul has been defiant in the face of the mounting plagiarism charges, asserting that he is being held to a higher standard than other politicians and adding, “I think I’m being unfairly targeted by a bunch of hacks and haters.”

But the plagiarism allegations cannot be so easily brushed aside. Unlike Biden, who at least attempted to paraphrase Kinnock’s statements, Paul hasn’t even bothered to make any changes to the original passages. In Government Bullies, the hardcover version of which sells for $21.99 on Amazon, Paul directly steals a 1,318 word passage from a Heritage Foundation article, without providing any attribution of the source.

Paul has defended himself by saying that although he has made mistakes, he has always tried to do things properly and that his office staff, on whom he has blamed the plagiarism, will be restructured to prevent further mistakes –so that “people [will] leave me alone in the future.”

Unfortunately, Paul seems to have a history of fudging the truth that may cloud that future.

A graduate of Duke University’s School of Medicine and a licensed ophthalmologist, Paul has often stated he is board certified. The only problem with the statement is that Paul’s certification comes from an organization called the National Board of Ophthalmology, which is a group of his own creation. Incorporated in 1999, the certification agency is headed by Paul, with his wife Kelly serving as vice president and his father-in-law as secretary.

The NBO is not recognized by the American Board of Ophthalmology, the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Medical Association or the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. It was dissolved in 2000 for failure to file required paperwork with Kentucky’s Secretary of State, recreated by Paul in 2005, and again dissolved in 2011.

According to Salon, Paul’s NBO has certified a total of seven doctors during its existence, compared to the over 16,000 certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, the organization normally entrusted with that responsibility.

Why Paul has determined to create his own certification organization and reject the long-established and highly-regarded ABO is another question that he may need to address, along with what value there can possibly be in a medical certification that one has bestowed on oneself.

More broadly, it will be interesting to see, a quarter of a century after Biden’s plagiarism ended his campaign for the presidency, whether Americans hold Paul to the same standards of honesty and personal integrity.

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