Just a speed bump on the campaign highway

And it happened right here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last Saturday night. Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama is taking some heat for his non-original oratory. “Just words” turns out to be those of Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, from an October 2006 speech.

A stumble like this can be mighty uncomfortable. Obama has been lauded for his great rhetorical skills. As I mentioned earlier, is there a chance he’s only a well-trained parrot?


  1. Gov. Deval Patrick is one of Obama’s staunchest supporters. I’m sure he gave him the go ahead. Yeah, it’s not the most graceful thing in the world, you’re right.

    I don’t really think this is going to become an issue, even though he should have cited Gov. Patrick.

    But talk about fly in the ointment:


  2. No excuse, it was an obvious mistake.

  3. I have heard Senator Obama speak 3 times since the fall of 2006. I will say he has used those lines in all three speeches. What he was lifting was the “just words” argument not the underlying quotes. It is not great, but if this is the best Hilary can do, she is in real trouble. To me it is a non-issue because he was responding to Hilary’s attacks. He could have done it more artfully, but do we really care?

  4. It’s not that he got his words wrong, Dan, it’s that he could have attributed it to Patrick. whether it was a mistake or on purpose, we’ll never know.

    I don’t know if y’all are just mad that John McCain can’t speak for peas or what, but since when was Obama held to the high standard that all his speeches must be extemporaneous and totally original?

    You’re grasping at straws.

  5. I understand Dan. I just don’t know what that clip does to prove your point. Either you think he is sincere or you don’t. You clearly are in the later group and I am in the former.

    My guess is when you are talking about true leadership you are speaking about McCain and not Hillary. That is something we can agree on.

  6. I don’t know what to make of this. I had hoped for a poet, but it’s possible he shares a really good speech writer with his friend.

    Also possible he is just influenced by his friend–this is how culture is propagated in small groups or large. What politician does not take advice about how to frame an argument?

    If you want to pick about un-credited literary references, you have to go after MLK and Ronald Regan too. Justice rolling like waters and shining city on a hill didn’t originate with them. The difference might be that they expected their audience to recognize the prophets they quoted?

    This issue doesn’t resonate for me.

  7. If this is the best you can do to make Obama look foolish, then he’s definitely not as bad as Billary or McCain.

    I can accept Obama reusing some words from another African American Democrat. I can’t accept a continuation of dynasties in the White House. I can’t accept a 100-year War in Iraq. I can’t accept a President that says he’s against torture but then is for it to please extreme conservatives.

  8. That 100-year war thing is a bit out of context too. Look at the rest of his statement.

  9. I agree that whenever it happens it’s unpleasant. Should plagiarism be swept under a carpet because it’s a political campaign? How hard would it have been in any of the the situations to say, “Like my good friend Deval Patrick says…” and then get on with it?

    I was enamored by Obama’s ability, but it really is a pin in the balloon for me. I want original, darn it!

    In a way, I like it that not everyone laughts at McCain’s jokes. That just might be a good thing for a President.

    Those prophets have stuff in the public domain – their words are fair game. And that makes Deval Patrick a prophet?

  10. Greg–I agree with you, but the fact that they’re both African American really should be of no consequence.

  11. No, Cindy, it makes Deval Patrick part of the public domain.

    Kathryn brings up a good point with MLK and Reagan. Shining City on a Hill.

    That came from 15th century English Puritan, John Winthrop, in a sermon. So you’re telling me that a pre-revolutionary sermon is public domain but a 2006 speech by Deval Patrick isn’t? Come on.

  12. Dave Frank says:

    Cindy, you are right that it could have been dealt with in a better way. I am not sure it rises to the level of plagiarism. To me plagiarism infers some malicious intent. A very fine author, Stephen Ambrose, was accused of plagiarism late in his career. The accusations, while maybe technically correct, were likely the result of a mistake not intentional conduct. In the end it did not take away from the wonderful work he did throughout his career for me.

    I feel the same way about Senator Obama. One misstep won’t put a pin in the balloon for me. However, I certainly don’t feel this level of scrutiny is unreasonable for a Presidential candidate. Everything they say is absolutely fair game.

  13. Actually, Shawn, the Puritan was quoting the book of Revelation (it isn’t all brimstone.)

    Cindy has a point about public domain, but I kinda think Deval Patrick’s remarks are in there too–at least in public discourse, like axis of evil, the dark side, and so on. He put them out there on a public platform, and he gave a public ok to Obama’s use.

  14. No, a 2006 speech by Patrick is not. 1) it was two years ago or so, 2) he is still living.

    Tell me how it is public domain. National Treasure with Nicolas Cage is about the same age but I don’t see anyone arguing I should be able to copy the movie as my own.

  15. You are right, Cindy, he could have mentioned Patrick. If he were publishing, he definitely should have.

    Even those texts in the public domain, like the Bible, require an attribution when used in print–as in a scholarly article or a piece of journalism. In a work of fiction, we might call it an allusion and not require attribution so long as the quotation was brief.

    In political speech, it isn’t all that clear where the line must be drawn.
    Why in the world would you want your own copy of National Treasure?

  16. Oh, Kathryn, I am human and have my own weakness – one of them being Nicolas Cage…

  17. Dave Frank says:

    Kathryn you aren’t a Nick Cage fan? I might add that National treasure is copyrighted and as a result protected by law. I am guessing Mr. Deval did not copyright his speech. He may have, but I would be surprised.

  18. But isn’t a copyright invested at creation? So it would be Deval Patrick’s or his speech writer’s. (Assuming they didn’t lift it from somewhere else…)

  19. Dave Frank says:

    Sorry I meant Mr. Patrick. I don’t have a last name so I am notoriously bad at them…..

  20. Dave, that’s pretty funny!

  21. β€œSen. Obama and I are longtime friends and allies. We often share ideas about politics, policy and language. The argument in question, on the value of words in the public square, is one about which he and I have spoken frequently before. Given the recent attacks from Sen. Clinton, I applaud him [for] responding in just the way he did.” Deval Patrick

    I copied this from FOX, but other news sites have it too.

  22. Well then that’s answered. Mr. Patrick doesn’t mind.

    I’m no Obama fan, but it still really bummed me out.

  23. Well, my friend, you still have Nicholas.

  24. Sigh. Oh, thank goodness…

  25. As usual the Democrats make excuses for the gaffs that their candidates make and say it doesn’t matter anyhow, but if it were a Republican doing it they would scream to high heaven. They are the biggest hypocrites in the world, and plagiarism is still stealing and indicating that you’re full of hot air. It doesn’t matter how many others have done it. All that matters is that this clown is a big phony without any record or real experience and just uses words to fool the uninformed and ignorant public. 90% of people don’t have a clue about anything other than their paycheck, the TV schedule, and their family affairs. It’s a sad world that we are allowed to vote for the candidates that blow smoke up our butts!

  26. El Gato, you’re living in a parallel universe. We all admitted it was a mistake.

  27. Is that universe akin to the one where suddenly everyone will have health insurance once Barack gets elected? Or perhaps the one where we can simply grab all of our troops out of Iraq because Barack says so? Or where the practice of politics as we know it in Washington will be revolutionized because someone says its time to CHANGE? All of it sounds like a stretch to me…

  28. Nope, nothing is sudden. Barack hasn’t promised sudden changed–and you’re too smart to assume that he does.

    He knows it will take time, so do his supporters, and the rest of you in La-La McCain land try to make a cavernous crater out of a pore-sized perforation.

  29. Now Shawn, what in the world would make you say “La-La McCain land.” It’s not like you to name call. Disagree all you want – but don’t turn to tactics that you usually dislike from others.

  30. Honestly I think this entry was just to stir people up. It’s just another tactic I see being used to discredit the guy.

    What other good material does Billary, or any Republican for that matter, have on Obama?

    I would like to hear them please.

    No, I don’t want to hear, “He said the same lines as his good buddy from Massachussetts!”

    I want to hear something truly critical that makes him a terrible candidate to pick.

    Cindy, you say he’s like a balloon just waiting for a pin. Give me a break! What’s taking him so long to pop then? Shouldn’t he have popped a looong time ago? Like, you know, after his terrible loss in New Hampshire?

    Obama, the underdog, is on the verge of toppling the former First Lady of a President that some argue was one of the best Presidents in American history. That’s pretty darn impressive if I do say so myself.

    The only thing I see here is Republicans pushing buttons and grabbing straws to find something to talk about.

    It’s not working on this end. Try again.

  31. Oh, no, Greg. I said hearing that his “just words” speech had been used before was like putting a pin in the balloon for me. He is being touted as a great orator, but he used someone else’s rhetoric.


    Dan, there was a lot on last night about Michelle’s statement. Evidently the Obama campaign is going to have to work on that phrase – they sense it could be problematic.

  32. Wow, Dan that’s a big stretch. I’m not trained and I actually did not read that report. Do you have the source just so I can be sure?

    I continue to be amused at the slim pickins that you have to assault Obama with. This whole plagiarism issue is really a non-issue. Words filter through between different people. I find myself using the same good arguments that I have heard made by close friends. Do I stop and say: Smith, John, “12/06/07 Personal Debate on Stem Cells at Shawn Matson’s House.”

    No one would expect that. Do speakers ever credit their speech writers? Isn’t THAT plagiarism? I bet John McCain uses speech writers, too.

  33. “Grasping at straws” is fairly common phraseology.

    I think YOU are grasping at straws.

    I didn’t read that article or get the Plouffe quote. Although, I wish I had so I could stand strong with Obama being a person that uses common phraseology that someone else happens to say!

    As for Michelle, what was the context? I didn’t get this story.

    Oh, and give me a few examples of things that have made you proud of our country in the past few years.

  34. One I thought of right away would be our response to the Indonesian Tsunami. That was really wonderful.

  35. Dan, you make some good points but never fail to berate me.

    First off, the national response on 9/11 made me incredibly proud. Incredibly proud to see hundreds of thousands of people flock to blood banks because it’s all they could do. To see thousands pour into New York to help clear the rubble. To see hundreds suffer respiratory illnesses from all the dust at the site.

    I too, am really proud of the troops who have had a really tough time these past 7 years. For weathering a storm for which they needn’t be sent into. Yet, they continue to serve. That’s really awe-inspiring and remarkable.

    “people like you cast blanket statements about how all troops need to come home and we are hated throughout the world. I am mindful of the fact that there are people on the front lines defending my right to sit here.”

    Dan, It is because I am mindful of those people who are defending us, that I call for their safety. It is because I respect the service that they provide, with little recognition or repayment, that I insist that they are never cast into the line of battle unless absolutely necessary.

    And what about those third world countries, Dan?

    “Grateful for every medical supply and vitamin they received from the US which you likely have learned to take for granted.”

    As someone with no health insurance, I know what it’s like to struggle for medical care. I value the system set in place here in Wisconsin that is a safety net for people who don’t receive medical care, and I’m proud of people who provide service for Americans and non-Americans.

    I dream for the day when I could take my health for granted.

    Or how about those freedoms? Have you ever realized that while you celebrate your freedoms, I am someone to actually exercise those freedoms. The freedom to question your government. The freedom to ask questions and disagree with groupthinkers.

    While you party for freedom, I am free. While you lecture others to value their liberties, I am liberated.

    Sometimes, Dan, walking the walk is bigger than talking the talk. Attempt to paint me as unpatriotic as much as you want. Attempt to portray me as someone who takes their freedom for granted.

    And Dan, I don’t know about you but the tools i value most are the ones I utilize the most. Maybe you are the sort of person who keeps their tools tucked away as to not taint them. But after a while, you forget that those tools are sitting in the dusty closet.

    Dan, a true patriot is someone who loves their country, questions their country, and tries as hard as their might allows to make their country an even better place than it was the day before.

    Certainly, true love is blind, Dan. And when you find flaws in the thing or person you love most, you try to call attention to it, to mend the crack in a noble tower, to right what wrong may have come unintentionally. When a breach is made in the sturdiest of strongholds, you alert your brethren in an attempt to solve that breach. You don’t ignore it out of convenience. You might, but I don’t.

    I’ve gone without food, I’ve gone without sneakers or health care or luxury. I need braces, I need allergy medicine, I need a whole slew of things. But what I have is a nation, a family, and a group of friends that I can be proud of. People that care about me and love me are more important than any shortcomings in my life, Dan.

    I already have what I need most–what most people in this world will never have, and for that I am content. That doesn’t mean I can’t fight for a better life, a better name, or a better nation.

    Dan, I have never once questioned your patriotism or your values or your allegiance to this country, so don’t try to prove that I am not aligned with the United States of America.

  36. Ok. You two take it outside the blog. Shawn’s email address is above. If it’s that important, you can slug it out somewhere else.

    You know I’m happy to have you both here, but it’s getting personal.

  37. I’m waiting.

  38. Cindy, earlier you stated, “I want original, darn it!” If this is truly your stance, how do you feel about the video Shawn posted that clearly shows McCain “changing” his opinions to align with the republican ideals as the election draws near? To me a candidate shouldn’t drift towards a party’s lines simply to garner votes, but should stick with their original opinions on a subject…clearly Mr. McCain has had some trouble with this. Straight talk him out of this one, if you can, for me.

  39. Dan and Shawn, thank you!

    Jay, oh, I know. I still want an original πŸ™‚ We touched on this in an earlier post – Stuff that worries me about McCain.

    I could have theoretically seen myself crossing over and voting Obama. But, if he’s not original, then I’ll stick with the unoriginal version on my side of the fence.

  40. I understand Obama did take some 20 words from someone elses speech, but I’m wondering as to how else he is unoriginal. To me a few words seems less significant than an entire cabinet of viewpoints, that would actually affect policy.

  41. There’s more than one speech being shown now.

    Jay, why don’t you list some of Senator Obama’s accomplishments? Maybe it could sway me since his rhetoric failed.

  42. Interesting video, although surprised…I never supported Obama in the first place, I voted Hillary on Tuesday. But you still haven’t answered my question of John McCain’s originality.

  43. Jay, I thought I did yesterday morning at 6:20a.m. I’d love original, but if I can’t have it, I prefer to stick with what I know. I never claimed McCain WAS original!

  44. Sorry Cindy, my bad on that one…I must have checked out the link and forgot to finish reading.