"Plagiarism-gate," or whatever moniker is given to revelations that Sen. Barack Obama borrowed other politician's words, continued on Wednesday, despite evidence that suggests all candidates -- not just the Illinois Democrat -- are guilty of the alleged crime.
Late on Tuesday evening, Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign sent out an article written by The Washington Post's Dana Milbank titled "Claims of Rhetoric-Pilfering Pile Up on Obama." The piece, playing off of an earlier report that Obama had taken lines from his friend and surrogate, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, included new evidence of the senator's "borrowing problem."
There was, however, one problem. Many of the lines Milbank described as "objectionable" were not just used by Obama but by Clinton as well. Take, for instance, this passage from Washington Post article:
[Obama] borrowed anew on Tuesday at an outdoor rally here in San Antonio -- this time from his former foe, John Edwards. Criticizing pharmaceutical companies' ads, Obama joked: "You know those ads where people are running around the fields, you know, they're smiling, you don't know what the drug is for?"
Compare that to this staple of the 2004 Edwards stump speech: "I love the ads. Buy their medicine, take it, and the next day you and your spouse will be skipping through the fields.
Not noted was that in May 2007, Clinton used almost identical language as both Edwards and Obama. Here's the clip from her campaign website:
"...A lot of these so-called 'blockbuster drugs' are no more effective, and sometimes less effective, in treating conditions than old standbys that have been around for a long time, and don't have all the advertising of, you know, people running through fields of wildflowers that convince patients that they need the new drug..."
That's not all. Here's another graph from Milbank's article:
Edwards, accepting the party's vice presidential nomination in 2004, said, "Hard work should be valued in this country, so we're going to reward work, not just wealth." Obama, in turn, has been heard to say, "We shouldn't just be respecting wealth in this country, we should be respecting work."
The same language was used by the Clinton campaign to describe a key element of her economic agenda. We need, her website read, "tax fairness that rewards work, not just wealth."
To be sure, Milbank did note rhetorical similarities between Obama and Edwards that Clinton did not parody. For instance, there is Obama's campaign kickoff speech in February 2007: "I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change." That is compared to Edwards's 2003 announcement speech: "I haven't spent most of my life in politics, but I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington."
Moreover, elements of Obama's "borrowing" lend itself to concerns about the senator's overall substance (or, for critics, lack thereof). As David Frum, a speech writer for President Bush, wrote the Huffington Post:
Obama is a candidate all about words - he has zero record of executive leadership, precious little of legislative accomplishment. It's all about the speeches. So if the speeches aren't his own ... what is there to him exactly? The figure in U.S. history he reminds me most of is William Jennings Bryan. What would we think if the Cross of Gold speech had turned out to be "borrowed"?
But, taken as a whole, the evidence seemingly paints a different picture than Obama as a "serial-borrower." Indeed, as other Republican word-smiths note, candidates of all political stripes frequently and liberally take lines from each other.
"When I used to write for Republicans in the late 1990s and up through a few years ago, I wrote language books for them and they all used it," said Frank Luntz, the Republican political strategist and "framing" guru. "And it wasn't what we call plagiarism. It was written for them to use. It was written for them to stay on message... I'm sorry but Hillary Clinton does not deliver her own speeches. People write words for her. Unless you create your own language you have no right to criticize some else, especially if it comes from a friend or ally."