The night the plagiarism charge died

February 22, 2008 | By | 4 Replies More

The “plagiarism” charge died last night. Actually, it was already dead. But maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton finally realizes it. During her debate with Barack Obama, when she pulled out her well-rehearsed plagiarism charge she was greeted with a bit of applause, then a shower of boos by the audience. As reported by the Associated Press, Obama has sometimes used speech lines similar to those used by Massachusetts Governor Devel Patrick (who is also the national co-chairperson of Obama’s campaign).

But is it really improper (as Ms. Clinton has charged) for anyone to use the unattributed ideas of a third party (in this case Deval Patrick) who gave you complete permission to use those ideas? Mr. Obama and Mr. Patrick both agree that Obama had Patrick’s blessing to use these ideas in Obama’s speeches.

Patrick, a friend and supporter of Obama, said he encouraged the candidate last week to respond to Clinton’s criticisms about his rhetoric, as he has done before. He said he shared lines from his 2006 campaign for governor with Obama’s speechwriters and wanted no credit, because the two men often swap ideas.

Using Hillary Clinton’s logic, she herself has acted improperly every time she has uttered any idea she got from her husband Bill without specifically attributing that idea to Bill. Or how about all of those bad ideas she’s been getting from her advisors? When her ideas fall flat (maybe especially when they fall flat) shouldn’t she make complete disclosures, saying “I got that bad idea from a highly paid political consultant named [Mary or Bob or Claude]? Using that same standard by which she has leveled “plagiarism” charges against Obama, Clinton has committed many thousands of her own violations during this campaign.

The bottom line is that we are trying to choose a President. Among all the candidates’ speeches, throughout this entire campaign, has there really been a single idea that has been truly original? I doubt it. The political platitudes we’ve heard this campaign are much like those we’ve been hearing for decades. I suspect, in fact that Devel Patrick, himself, was probably inspired by someone else when he first uttered the ideas later used by Barack Obama. Given this context of the history of political rhetoric, it is not hard to understand the boos Clinton received. Was she really unable to think of anything more urgent to discuss at the debate than her horribly strained accusation of “plagiarism?” If so, she’s out of worthy ideas.


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Category: Communication, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. On some feminist blogs that I read he gets called sexist and he also gets criticized for treating Hilary with condescenion. The topic list on his website also does not mention reproductive rights or women's issues. Is that true?

    He seems more likeable than Hilary Clinton and more genuine, because he shows emotions. She always has this smile on her face, regardless what people say to her. Did anybody see "Borat"? I had to think of this movie where most people maintained their professional composure, not a hint of surprise or indignation, no matter what Borat tells or asks them. I mean, being professional is good and all, but I'm surprised at the lack of any kind of human reaction. I was wondering if that was an American/British thing (the British guests he had on the "Ali G Show" were the same), maintaing professional composure at all cost?

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Barack Obama's site has a large section on Women's Issues, and he is clearly gaining the support of many women's groups with his strong pro-woman stands. The sub-topics on his site include:

    Health care issues: Health care system changes, Empowering women to preven HIV/AIDS, Supporting Research into Women's Health, Fighting Cancer (including breast cancer);

    Reproductive Choice: Supporting a woman's right to choose & Preventing Unwanted pregnancy.

    Preventing Violence Against Women

    Economic Issues for Women (fighting for Pay Equity and Investing in Women-owned small businesses and Improving Child Support Collection, among other economic issues).

    Other major divisions include Poverty and Education.

    You have to dig past the front page of Obama's site to get to these, but that is true of many other issues addressed in his site. Those issues directed to the specific interests of various constituencies are addressed under the category "People" rather than "Issues."

    For an indication of the extent of the support Obama is getting from women, visit this link:

  3. Thank you, Erich. I will forward it.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    The plagiarism charge might matter if Obama were in a forum that required complete originality — such as when submitting a college term paper. Obviously, a political speech is not such a forum.

    Moreover, a speech is more than mere words. Two speakers can use the same words yet produce profoundly different results, just as two different people can tell the same joke yet produce vastly different amounts of laughter. To charge Obama with plagiarismzed without mentioning the impact he achieved by his delivery ignores this important factor. (Of course, Hillary had good reason to ignore it: she conspicuously fails to generate similar impact with her own delivery.)

    What I don't understand is why Hillary persists with her pathetic attacks — one day declaring herself "proud" to share the same stage with Obama, the next lambasting him with such a petty charge. Whether Hillary is doing it because she lacks good judgment or because she's getting bad campaign advice doesn't matter: either way the mud lands on her and voters move to Obama. It's disappointing to see such an accomplished candidate implode the way Hillary has. Then again, McCain imploded last year and now he's the Republican nominee, so one never knows.

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