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Barack and Deval's Plagiarism Seesaw

02/18/2008 07:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It isn't news until it hits the New York Times. This morning, I read Barack Obama is a plagiarist -- ripping off Deval Patrick, of all people!

I found it amusing: not because of the accusation, but because of a role reversal in who was plagiarizing who.

My perspective on this is a little different.

You see, I was among the first batch of interns for Gov. Patrick back in spring of 2005, when his campaign was just getting on its feet in an abandoned refugees museum converted into a campaign office on Boston's Milk Street. Incredibly little was known about Patrick, who had never run for elected office, and even less was expected of his campaign, but I had friends there and they believed in him, so I gave it a go.

He was going up against Tom Reilly, then a successful two-term state attorney general, who had spent years building up his political chits in Massachusetts Democratic politics, along with a formidable campaign warchest. His headquarters sat in a suite with floor-to-ceiling windows across the street from Government Center: Boston City Hall, the seat of power and all that jazz.

It was absolutely clear that it was Reilly's time to go for "the gold," to pilfer from Gov. Romney, who was having one of his famous debates with himself over whether he'd run again in 2006. I liked it when Patrick would say on the stump, "I'm not running because it's my turn." It was a clear dig at Reilly and the regular Democratic organization that hadn't elected a Democrat since Dukakis.

The thing is, Patrick's words started to get notice -- especially when he backed them up with an impressive fundraising haul at the end of his first quarter as a candidate. The more he inspired people to join his campaign, the more his opponents knew they had to stop him.

So what did they go after first? Naturally, his words.

A prominent local columnist hit Deval in the Boston Globe for calling out "Yes We Can" in his speech to the 2005 Massachusetts Democratic Convention, dubbing it "a theme lifted straight from Barack Obama" and needled him for "borrowed rhetoric." This was either before or after the Herald mocked him for the same thing.

'This guy's no Barack Obama,' people were supposed to think.

It was all ridiculous and trivial, and it never really stuck. But what really makes me scoff is that the Clinton campaign is trying to assert that it is Obama who is now the pretender.

This wasn't their first opportunity. I noted a couple of coincidences in an oh-how-the-tables-have-turned post at Political Insider (another place where I interned) a while back.

But the point of my item wasn't that of an accusing finger at Obama the Plagiarist. It was merely for political junkies who pay inordinately close attention to who advises which candidate and the language and framing that comes out of their mouth. And we are the geeks with whom this kind of manufactured scandal should die.

If you want to be high-minded about it, you could say looking at what survives one campaign to go on to the next is a study of what rhetoric works and what rhetoric doesn't.

Clearly, Patrick's worked, and Obama's seems to be doing the same. Otherwise they wouldn't be going after it in so many different ways.

In fact, I'd like to put Hillary Clinton's 2008 attacks on Obama's rhetoric next to that of Patrick's 2006 Republican opponent, Kerry Healey.

Might find some "plagiarism" there, too.