Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama and Patrick speeches

Last Saturday, at a Democratic Party dinner in Wisconsin, Senator Obama responded to the Clinton campaign's criticisms characterizing Obama as a "talker, not a doer." A couple of his sentences were very similar to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's response in the same situation, during the Governor's campaign in 2006. Here is a description of the similarities between the two speeches (video link, via The Nation) and the Clinton campaign's subsequent charge of plagiarism against Senator Obama. Senator Obama did not attribute the sentences to Governor Patrick, hence the charge of plagiarism.

Back in 1988, Senator Joe Biden ended his Presidential bid after a similar charge of plagiarism. He repeated a speech by British labor leader Neil Kinnock, with apparently only minor modifications (link). So the question is - is this Obama's Biden moment?

The incident could not have come at a better time for the Clinton campaign - just before the Wisconsin Democratic primary, which is tight, though Senator Obama has a slight lead. A Clinton victory will definitely kill any talk of Obama-momentum, and should help Senator Clinton tremendously in the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio. This could well be the turning point of the campaign.

But - was the incident as serious as the Clinton campaign would have us believe? Senator Biden apparently recited the Kinnock speech with only minor modifications. On the other hand, Senator Obama's faux pas was part of a much longer speech, though it definitely was one of the highlights. Further, Senator Obama has a long history of speaking and writing - as he says, he has written two books and most of his own speeches. As far as I can tell, his books have not been accused of plagiarism, though an AP report in January apparently reported on similarities of his talking points with Governor Patrick's speeches. Senator Obama defends himself saying Governor Patrick and he talk all the time, trading ideas. The sentences in question were apparently extemporaneous - they were not in the text.

The plagiarism does not appear to be on the Biden-scale. Governor Patrick, a supporter and friend of Senator Obama, apparently encouraged Senator Obama to give such a response. Further, Senator Clinton herself has appropriated some of Senator Obama's language, and that definitely is planned; one thing Senator Clinton has not been accused of is spontaneity. But with the Wisconsin race as tightly poised as it is, any minor incident could tip the scales one way or the other.

We will find out on the morrow.

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