The problem with the plagiarism flap -- Obama literally repeated Deval Patrick's words from 2006 -- is that it strikes a stake in the heart of the Obama story. Obama's campaign is based on words, verbal platitudes and uplifting rhetoric. He told us he was an original, new and fresh...that he had New Ideas, a New Way to run Washington....
But if Obama's words are somebody else's, and do not spring from his own inspirational story, then they become as irrelevant and hollow as a Super Bowl Budweiser feel-good commercial. For political junkies, it doesn't get any better than this. Political jujitsu at its best. You take the opponent's best issue and flip it. It takes the wind out of a campaign. Your best issues are heatbreakingly turned against you. Clearly the Clinton campaign has been quietly, patiently waiting for this character revealing gaffe from a political novice, but it may have come too late to do her much good. The Republicans went after John Kerry's strength in the 2004 election by discrediting his patriotism, character and well-documented war hero record, with innuendos and falsehoods - a Rovian Republican tactic.
The reality is that the "words" were not stolen from Deval Patrick, they were written by David Axelrod, Obama's campaign manager, or perhaps by Obama's 26 year old speechwriter, Jon Favreau. Favreau led the team that wrote Obama's victory speech in Des Moines -- a moment that prompted the TV pundits to drop months of skepticism about Obama's candidacy to make breathless comparisons with the Kennedy era, according to Richard Wolffe in Newsweek, January 6th, 2008. Pundits started comparing Mr. Obama to John Kennedy and Reverend Martin L. King, Jr., but few were familiar with the oratory of a fire-n-brim-stone black church.
"What is your theory of speechwriting?" Obama asked, when he interviewed Favreau for the job.
"I have no theory," admitted Favreau. "But when I saw you at the convention, you basically told a story about your life from beginning to end, and it was a story that fit with the larger American narrative. People applauded not because you wrote an applause line but because you touched something in the party and the country that people had not touched before. Democrats haven't had that in a long time."
For his inspiration, Mr. Favreau told the NYT, "I actually read a lot of Bobby" Kennedy. "I see shades of J.F.K., R.F.K.," he said, and then added, "King."
Obama is brilliant at inspirational speeches, read from a teleprompter, before television cameras -- Obama's victory speech in Iowa. But his performance in debates, and in off the cuff speeches on the campaign trail, have been mundane. In a debate, it is not enough to enrapture the masses. You have to use your own words and possess a complete mastery of the subject.
Obama and his supporters know that he has not done well in head to head matchups, which may be why his advisors have wisely tried to keep him away from any more debates against the well-prepared Clinton. To be a really authentic candidate, Obama could have admitted that the words were by Favreau or Axelrod, both of whom wrote for Patrick, and admitted candidly that he relied on his team and that all candidates do.
What a refreshing statement this would have been!
In truth, Obama may have just been using the same words that Favreau originally wrote and therefore, Favreau should give back some of his pay for peddling the same words twice.
Unfortunately for Obama, this gaffe is now exposing the similarities between his campaign and that of the struggling Massachusetts Governor Patrick.
Patrick was a political newcomer who swept office on the promise of change in a campaign crafted by the same Svengali, David Axelrod, who created and packaged both of them.
Both were black and came out of nowhere. Deval, with a prep school education, is perhaps an even more gifted orator than Obama, if you watch the original "Just Words" speech. In Massachusetts, a groundswell for change, and promises of change, were not enough for Patrick to produce change. Patrick eventually needed to succeed in the tough, stalemated political system that he was criticizing, and he failed miserably.
Deval tried to ignore the real world politics that dominated the Massachusetts legislature and quickly became bogged down with rookie mistakes. He squandered the goodwill of the voters and many of them turned against him. Many Democrats regretted their votes for someone they now consider a false prophet.
The Obama campain tells its supporters not to discuss policy... stick to the inspirational story and promises of change and hope. They are afraid that policy discussions will only bring out enemies.
Let Obama be what the voters want him to be -- is the theme campaign workers are told to stress.
The upcoming campaign will not be easy for any Democrat. We are out there without a net. Is there a hidden anti-black vote? Is there an anti-woman vote? Many entrenched interests - including the corporate war machine - will do and say anything to keep control of the White House and keep their coffers gushing. We saw the Dark Forces at work against the Clintons, Gore and Kerry. A vicious right wing conspiracy is waiting to swing into action like a pack of wild dogs. The demonization will begin immediately.
This is going to be a tough fight. Is poetry going to be enough? And what if that poetry turns out to be somebody else's words?