In June 1987 Joe Biden announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president and was considered a strong challenger for the nomination. In September he withdrew from the nominating process after allegations that he had plagiarized a speech from Irish labor leader Neal Kinnock and that Biden had plagiarized assignments in law school. In withdrawing, Biden apologized and said he had been “overrun by the exaggerated shadow” of his past mistakes.
In June 1990 three-term Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry announced he was not seeking reelection after a January arrest for possession and use of crack cocaine. Barry’s use of the drug was captured on video and widely circulated in media outlets. After serving a six-month sentence, Barry returned to politics, running for Washington city council with the campaign slogan “He may not be perfect, but he is perfect for Washington, D.C.”
In the last two days two current political leaders, Senator Rand Paul and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, responded to similar charges. Paul, who has been accused of plagiarizing material for several speeches and his book from sources like Wikipedia and the Heritage Foundation website. Rand’s initial reaction to reports on MSNBC and Buzzfeed was to state “I am being unfairly attacked by a bunch of hacks and haters.” A day later, in talking to a New York Times reporter, Paul said he was going to be more careful in the future because he wanted people “to leave him the hell alone.” Ford, after denying allegations of crack cocaine usage for months, including after a video of him smoking the drug went viral held a press conference yesterday in which he apologized for using crack, blaming it on a drunken binge. He also said he would remain in office and allow voters to decide whether he should be reelected in October 2014.
Although Biden and Barry remained in public life and Biden even returned to the national stage, both appeared to feel shamed by their respective incidents or at least embarrassed by the public’s response to their actions. Paul and Ford, on the other hand appear far less affected by their behavior. Paul has given no indication that he has given up on his presidential ambitions and Ford’s approval ratings in public opinion ratings are up over the last two weeks. To be fair, Paul has been dropped by the Washington Times as a weekly columnist and Ford has become the butt of late night comedian’s jokes, so both have been affected.
People in the United States have often been referred to as a “forgiving” group. Clearly with Joe Biden, he has been forgiven for his past transgressions, as have other leaders such as Bill Clinton. Perhaps Canadians will also prove to be equally forgiving. I am left to wonder, however, if Biden and Ford survive, unscathed except for minor repercussions, if we are forgiving, or that we simply don’t care and that we treat politicians that same way we treat other celebrities like Lindsey Lohan or the Kardashians as fodder for social media chatter.