WILL SOMEBODY please interview Neil Kinnock? The British Labor Party leader could be about to enter the pantheon of American political history -- not on a level with Donna Rice, of course -- as an unwitting agent of what could easily become the season's second Democratic presidential exit.
He has become a household word in America, not the usual fate of a Welsh politician so recently and so soundly defeated.
Is he comforted? Is he flattered?
Does he mind that Sen. Joseph Biden -- who claims he credited Kinnock whenever he used his his lovely lines about being the first member of his coal-mining family to go to university -- neglected to do so during the Iowa debate, when all the cameras were on?
Kinnock, of all of Biden's sometimes unsung wordsmiths, writes his own speeches. Welshmen are born spouting lyrics or lines that come right out of "How Green was My Valley." Not for them the agonies of composition described by Irish poet W. B. Yeats, who said bitterly of the process of putting words on paper: "Better go down upon your marrow bones."
Biden's other quotables -- John and Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Martin Luther King, are, sadly, not available for comment. Their ghostwriters are, however, and one of them is registering resentment. Adam Walinsky, Bobby's scribe, leapt out of the well-lit shadows of his tribe to describe in detail the precise circumstances under which he penned the "gross national product" speech from which Biden has borrowed on the stump. It was written, if you care, at a redwood picnic table in Washington.
All these people have managed to put Biden in a pickle. He is the candidate of feeling, the orator who has audiences leaping to their feet in sometimes tearful enthusiasm. Maybe he would be forgiven for being carried away by fine prose, and maybe his susceptibility to noble ideas and ideals as expressed by others would be counted a virtue.
Unfortunately, the news about his rhetorical pilfering, which some call plagiarism, coincided with revelations that as a first-year law student at Syracuse University, he had in a term paper used five pages of a law review article without quotation or attribution.
Biden wrote an anguished letter to the dean protesting that it was not his intent to deceive anyone: "For if it were, I would not have been so blatant."
The faculty's response to his plea that "I am not a cheat and I did not intentionally plagiarize" was accepted to the point that he was allowed to repeat the course.
Biden reviewed this unhappy turn of events at a packed early-morning Capitol Hill press conference. He looked wan, his handsome, weak face was drawn. He had his usual sprightly talk-show-host manner. You could see him being drawn to the "but-that-was-long-ago-and- besides-the-wench-is-dead" argument, which is often popular in these cases.
But in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and titular leader of the Democrats who are striving to stop the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, Biden regularly excavates the past and confronts the nominee with its bones. So every time Biden came close to pleading youthful ignorance, to belaboring the point that it had all happened 22 years ago, he had to stop short. He had made a mistake, he had been "stupid."
The most curious passage in the long, painful encounter explained why Biden has borrowed so liberally from others in his attempts to define himself. He was defending himself from a reporter's observation that he had been outside the great, passionate causes that had swept the nation in the '60s, the civil-rights movement and the other crusades that figure so prominently in his campaign speeches.
"By the time the war movement was at its peak, I was married. I was in law school. I wore sports coats."
He had not marched with the civil-rights hosts. But he had been a lifeguard at a white pool in Delaware and had been "appalled" by what he saw.
He again reverted to the wardrobe defense.
"And look, you're looking at a middle-class guy. I am who I am. I'm not big on flak jackets and tie-dye shirts -- you know. That's not me."
At another point, he said, "Look, I'm a big boy." But that has always been in question about Biden, who seems often a collection of good instincts and incoherent utterance, pleasant, energetic, but not in control. On the record, his fellow senators were kind about his performance. Privately, they murmured that it had been "not presidential."
Dalliance has claimed one victim. Plagiarism may take another. The character issue is in the saddle. Biden's future as chairman and as candidate are at risk. He did it to himself, but we should hear from his accessory. It isn't every day a defeated Welsh politician gets a part in our political soap opera.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.