Is Obama a plagiarist?

Hillary Clinton

What happened

Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused rival Democrat Barack Obama of plagiarism for recycling part of a speech by friend and supporter Gov. Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts. The charges, in the middle of a tight primary contest in Wisconsin, stem from a speech last weekend in which Obama included language Patrick had used in a speech more than a year ago. Obama said he probably should have credited Patrick for the passage, which Patrick says he offered to the Obama campaign, but added that Clinton has also borrowed phrases from his speeches for her own use. When Obama uses someone else’s words “and doesn’t acknowledge their origin,” said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, “those same words seem less inspiring and more calculating.” (Newsday)

What the commentators said

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OK, “obviously, this isn’t plagiarism,” said David Kurtz in TalkingPointsMemo. It’s an attempt by Clinton’s team to “undermine” one of the core strengths of Obama’s candidacy: “his authenticity.” But it isn’t clear that this “transparently self-serving” attempt to “bring down Obama’s positives” will work, especially since it doesn’t “raise Hillary’s.” Is “He’s no better than me” really a winning campaign theme?

Obama’s nothing but a “knock off,” said Taylor Marsh in The Huffington Post, and he’s “played his supporters for suckers.” That includes his cheerleaders in the “gullible traditional media,” who are sucking up “the same hope soda” with a straw. But “cons eventually catch up with you,” and Obama’s time has come. Obama’s “rhetorical flourishes” are as “canned” as Sen. Joe Biden’s “lifted” bits from someone’s speech in 1988. Biden was “politically humiliated.” For Obama, “will the standard be different?”

“Put simply,” that argument is "nonsense,” said Ed Morrissey in his Captain’s Quarters blog. Biden “lifted entire passages of British Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s speeches” without attribution, including “Kinnock’s personal anecdotes—that’s plagiarism.” Patrick “wanted Obama to make use of his constructs”—that’s not. Clearly “Team Clinton” wants to “rub a little of the gloss off of Obama’s perceived honor and straightforward mien,” but it just comes across as desperate.

This may actually become something of an issue “between Obama and his supporters,” said Jake Trapper in ABC News’ Political Punch blog. Lots of Americans find themselves “inspired by Obama’s words.” And while Obama backers may not agree with Clinton’s charge that they are “just words,” they "likely think they are at least somewhat original.”

Still, one’s “tempted to say something about the danger of throwing stones from inside a glass house,” said Noam Scheiber in The New Republic’s The Stump blog. After all, “you can’t listen to a Clinton speech” without finding “multiple riffs she’s filched from other candidates.” Whatever the truth of the allegation—and the explanation that Obama and Patrick are friends who “share a lot of ideas” seems “sort of right”—it seems “a little strange” for Clinton to be “pushing” it.

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