The Wolfson Plagiarism Attack Is Ridiculous

Howard Wolfson is accusing Senator Obama of plagiarizing a speech passage from Governor Deval Patrick.

Wolfson said: "Sen. Obama is running on the strength of his rhetoric and the strength of his promises and, as we have seen in the last couple of days, he's breaking his promises and his rhetoric isn't his own."

Obama closely echoed a passage from a speech that Deval Patrick, now the Massachusetts governor, used at a campaign rally when he was running for that office in 2006.

Governor Patrick, however, says that he and Senator Obama have discussed this idea on the phone several times during the primary campaign. Nevertheless, this really is a desperate attack. After all, politicians repeat similar themes all the damn time. It's like attacking a politician for wearing a suit and a tie -- or a pants suit and pearls. You can get away with this kind of an attack, but it's not entirely genuine, and it's all too easy to counter-attack.

For instance, I looked up Senator Clinton's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner speech from last week. Here's a particularly familiar line:

"Are you ready to take back the White House..."

That sounds an awful lot like this one:

"...and then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! YAAARRR!"

She could easily have said, "Are you ready to reclaim the White House?" But instead, she used the same words made famous by Howard Dean four years ago.

But that's small-time. Here's a major problem for Senator Clinton's campaign if her staff and surrogates really want to engage in this so-called "plagiarism" debate. At the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Senator Clinton employed what's called "anaphora" -- a common technique of repeating a word or phrase for emphasis in a speech:

I see an America where we stand up to the oil companies...

I see an America where we say that 47 million people uninsured...

I see an America where we have schools worthy...

I see an America where college is affordable again...

And so forth. It was a seriously awesome section of her Jefferson-Jackson speech. It's a shame that (again, as long as the gloves are off and there has to be this ridiculous "plagiarism" debate) she lifted the "I see an America" anaphora from other politicians, including then-Governor Jimmy Carter. June, 1976:

I see an America poised not only at the brink of a new century, but at the dawn of a new era of honest, compassionate, responsive government.

I see an America with a tax system that does not steal from the poor and give to the rich.

I see an America with a job for every man and woman who can work, and a decent standard of living for those who cannot.

I see an America in which my child and your child and every child receives an education second to none in the world.

I see an America in which Martin Luther King's dream is our national dream.

I see an America on the move again, united, its wounds healed, its head high, a diverse and vital nation, moving into its third century with confidence and competence and compassion, an America that lives up to the majesty of its Constitution and the simple decency of its people.

I also discovered that the "I see an America" line has been used by Congressman Kucinich:

I see an America where equal access and equal rights are obtained by all

I see an America where last year the CEO of one of the largest health insurance companies in America made hundreds of millions of dollars in one year. I see an America where ExxonMobil's profits were $40 billion just a couple of years ago. Record amounts, record profits.

Hell, a Republican running for Congress in the New York 20th named John Wallace used the "I see an America" anaphora (pdf file -- there's a whole page of it, but Wallace is not worth quoting here).

What's the next attack, then? Senator Obama stole his haircut from whoever? Senator Obama's gestures are lifted from what's his name? Seriously, is this what Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn have been reduced to? Senator Clinton, if you really want to win this thing, you need to fire these guys.

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