Obama's Secret Speechwriter

If politics is sports, then Obama's rhetoric is like a filthy fastball that opposing hitters haven't managed to hit yet. (Jobarack Ochamberlain?) He keeps running it out there until someone connects off of him. Hittin' Hillary Clinton has choked up and grabbed a trusty bat off the rack: Words are cheap, actions speak louder than etc. etc.

And according to today's New York Times, the new spin in Barack's pitches ("Don't tell me words don't matter.") was borrowed from a -- I'm going to stretch this metaphor til it snaps -- secret pitching coach: Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts.

From the Times:

In a telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Patrick said that he and Mr. Obama first talked about the attacks from their respective rivals last summer, when Mrs. Clinton was raising questions about Mr. Obama's experience, and that they discussed them again last week.

Both men had anticipated that Mr. Obama's rhetorical strength would provide a point of criticism. Mr. Patrick said he told Mr. Obama that he should respond to the criticism, and he shared language from his campaign with Mr. Obama's speechwriters.

Mr. Patrick said he did not believe Mr. Obama should give him credit.

Should Obama give Patrick credit? Hell no. Putting aside practical questions of flow in a speech -- imagine getting to the rousing climax of the rebuttal and having to pause to explain who Deval Patrick is, etc. etc. -- there are larger issues at play having to do with ownership of a speech. Speechwriters have become ubiquitous at the highest levels of contemporary politics, but while it's interesting to piece together how famous phrases or speeches developed a politician -- and certainly a president -- takes ownership of words no later than the instant when they pass his (or her) lips. (And well before that, in optimal circumstances.) Patrick is not an Obama speechwriter as such, but happily and willingly lent the words (which distinguishes him from, say, a pol lifting phrases with neither permission nor attribution -- more on that in a second).

The history and the debate is fascinating, and is covered in my forthcoming White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters.

There is another aspect to the Obama-Patrick story. As Politico's Mike Allen notes:

A rival campaign circulated a pair of YouTube links on Sunday that make the point [of similarity] vividly.

This anonymous "rival campaign" (I wonder whose it was -- Gravel maybe?), seeking to jolt the race and change its momentum, is less interested in connecting Obama with Patrick, I argue over at RobertEmmet, than with Joe Biden, circa 1988.