Tuesday, February 19, 2008


You don't pass off someone else's words as your own. You attribute the source.

Just the way it is.

Original writing is rare and an art. Rewrites are common. Nut grafs almost always outlive the original story.

Just the way it is.

So when Sen. Barack Obama was hit with a charge of plagiarism for using a passage from a 2006 speech by Deval Patrick, the current Massachusetts governor (and longtime pol bud of Obama), we saw it as a dicey call.

What Patrick said in 2006:
"'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' Just words. Just words. 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' Just words. 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.' Just words. 'I have a dream.' Just words."
What Obama said this month:
"'I have a dream.' Just words. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.' Just words. 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' Just words."
No, Obama didn't plagiarize, because this is a rewrite, a tumble-dry of previous facts already in common use. A sloppy copy, not a firing offense.

Yes, Obama did plagiarize, because all three "famous words" cites are exact copies of the ones Patrick used. Most suspicious is Obama's lift of a misquote from that famous Franklin D. Roosevelt address. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. So sayeth FDR, so say we all. Except for copycats.

No, Obama didn't plagiarize, because his remarks in Wisconsin were off-the-cuff and might be nothing more than a recall of a conversation he'd had with Patrick. Smart politicians often share riffs and slogans, especially when they're friends.

Dicey, but benefit of the doubt to Obama, mostly because he was off the beaten text when he said what he did. Cadence and anaphora rule the land of memorable hooks and ad-libs.

But now Politico reports on another instance where Obama used a Patrick passage -- this one scripted, not ad-libbed. In June 2006, Patrick said:
"I am not asking anybody to take a chance on me. I'm asking you to take a chance on your own aspirations."
Obama read the same lines from the text of a speech he gave last November in South Carolina. The Republican National Committee is peddling the new evidence. So much for the line that Obama would bridge the bitter divide. Forget Hillary Clinton. Did anyone sane ever believe the GOP would give up the White House without a nasty fight?

Spring, soon. All sorts of buried muck will rise with the tulips.


Anonymous said...

our great nation doesn't need yet another empty suit in the white house or another doughnut form of gub'mint. seven years has already been enough.

Anonymous said...

They're friends.They have similar goals and outlooks.They talk. If Patrick doesn't mind...no foul. They all have speech writers anyway. I like somebody who can speak off the cuff without sticking to a script all the time. We all plagiarize a little when we're speaking off the cuff.

White Shadow

Anonymous said...

obama should concentrate on articulating his own vision of where he will lead the world. how he will get us there. mobilize america to save the planet. politicians employ speech writers for a reason. the ability to lead and inspire is his own.