You Didn’t Write That: If Words Matter, Does It Matter Whose Words?

Many readers will recall that during the 2008 primaries candidate Obama scolded Clinton Inc. — “Don’t tell me that words don’t matter!” — in a rousing speech using, nearly verbatim, a whole litany of words that were lifted verbatim from a speech by Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick. In the Texas debate Hillary Clinton pointedly replied:
Well, I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That’s, I think, a very simple proposition. (Applause.) And you know — you know, lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in; it’s change you can Xerox.
 Now he’s gone and done it again. This is what President Obama had to say in Roanoke, Virginia, a few days ago:
… look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own….
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
Sound familiar? It should. Here is Elizabeth Warren, running for the Senate in Massachusetts in September 2011:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Experts can quibble over whether the striking similarity between the President’s and the Cherokee’s words constitute plagiarism or simply the predictable affinity between the independent but identical thoughts of two left wing Occupiers. I do believe it is worth noting, however,  that virtually all of the institutions with which the President was associated before entering politics would have regarded his intellectual borrowing  as unacceptable. The following, to give one example, is from the Harvard Law School’s Handbook of Academic Policies:
All work submitted by a student for any academic or non-academic exercise is expected to be the student’s own work. In the preparation of their work, students should always take great care to distinguish their own ideas and knowledge from information derived from sources. The term “sources” includes not only published or computer-accessed primary and secondary material, but also information and opinions gained directly from other people. [Emphasis added]
In 2008 the former editor of the Harvard Law Review said he didn’t think using Deval Patrick’s words as his own was “too big a deal.” And he obviously didn’t, or he wouldn’t have shortly thereafter picked Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden, recall, had been forced out of the 1988 presidential race for linguistic borrowing from Neil Kinnock, the British labor politician, that was no more egregious than Obama’s from Warren:
NEIL KINNOCK at Welsh Labour Party conference May 1987:
“Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because our predecessors were thick? Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand”
JOE BIDEN IN Sept 1987 during his first presidential campaign:
“Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go a university? Why is it that my wife… is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? …Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come after 12 hours and play football for four hours? It’s because they didn’t have a platform on which to stand.”
Why was Biden forced from the race while Obama remains the darling of the the intellectuals (or at least most academics) and will remain president, at least until January 2013? Would Biden not have been forced out if he were black? Impossible, some will say, for that would mean that the press and the commentariat operate everywhere on the basis of racial double standards, which they claim to do only for hiring, promotion, and college admissions.
I think Biden, unlike Obama, was embarrassed by his lapse, which he agreed was a lapse. He had, after all, cited Kinnock on several other occasions when he included this passage in a speech. But Obama? Not so much. Perhaps he looks upon intellectual property, i.e., original thought and expression, with the same disdain that he has for other forms of individual creation: “If you’ve got a business [or idea or turn of phrase], you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Now Professor Jacobson has revealed that both Warren and Obama stole borrowed their “you didn’t build that” argument, and much of the language, from none other than old framer, George Lakoff.

The problem with Obama, Warren, and others of the Occupier mentality is that they have a tin ear for their American audience. They think they’re singing John Donne’s “No man is an island,” but what those who live in un-Occupied America hear is the grating, discordant complaint of Proudhon, “Property Is Theft.”

Say What? (1)

  1. Cobra July 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm | | Reply

    If I write…

    “It is cloudy outside today. Looks like rain.”

    Am I plagiarist, or an observer of demonstrable facts that’s been repeated since human beings acquired the capacity for speech?


Say What?