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Jeff Chang Headshot

Waking Up From History

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For 45 minutes last night, the debate was good for my household's collective fever. It said everyone agrees for once, all will be right with the world. Then Hillary repeated her ridiculous plagiarism charge, and I fell out of bed like Little Nemo. The dude from Slumberland, not the fish.

Most folks, I think, are Gnarls Barkley on this: she could go on and on and on, but who cares? If she wants originality, she can check out Dreams From My Father from the library. Or she could pledge to fire her own speechwriters and write all of her stumps by herself in a distant cave away from the masses, who so inconveniently seem to have actual ideas sometimes.

But she shouldn't even try to argue borrowing is a character flaw. Campaign speeches don't need to come footnoted. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been forgiven his own plagiarism because the moment demanded "I Have A Dream", whether or not the three words were arranged by Republican Archibald Carey. (In which case, still, I bet there was still some 19th-century child who woke up one morning and said, "Mummy, I have a dream.")

In a democracy, the best ideas, by definition, must have multiple authors.

Just to get all writerly for a second? Writing is like dancing. You can only move your body in certain directions. That's why we are enthralled by people who can do seemingly impossible things with theirs. And while they remind us that the body is capable of amazing and beautiful things, they also remind us it still has its limits and it is locked in time.

Language is the same. If Deval Patrick and Barack Obama had the same thought, it could be because that idea's time has come. If Patrick's way of expressing that idea inspired Obama and that in turn inspired us, well that's how an idea becomes manifested in the world. What did those people fond of the internets used to call it back in the day? Oh, yeah. A virus.

Before I go back to being Mother Theresa and tending to the sick babies, I did want to say that I thought Hillary ended the evening very well. "Whatever happens to Senator Obama or I," she said, placing a hand on Obama's shoulder, "we'll be fine." It was a graceful way to close her last debate, to say goodbye to the 2008 Democratic primary.