Friday, February 22, 2008

An Issue, Barely

Most of the debate over the debate Senators Obama and Clinton had in Austin, Texas on February 21, 2008 involved the matter of plagiarism. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an early and ardent supporter of Senator Obama, exclaimed in October, 2006 while running for the Statehouse:

But her dismissive point, and I hear it a lot from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words — just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, [applause and cheers] that all men are created equal.’ [Sustained applause and cheers.] Just words – just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words! ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words!

Campaigning in Wisconsin on February 16, 2008, Senator Obama declared “Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words! [Applause.] ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words — just speeches!”

Following the debate, Clinton was generally slammed because she commented during the debate "and, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox. And I just don't think...," a quip met by boos from the enthusiastic, if somewhat rude, Obama supporters. No one seemingly noticed that she had immediately prior noted "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."

Senator Obama appropriately points out that Patrick is national co-chairman of his campaign, that he and the Governor confer periodically, and that the issue is of relatively little significance. Still, Merriam-Webster online defines plagiarize as "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source." So Obama did indulge in plagiarism. If the mainstream media wants to downplay its significance, even to continue to ridicule Mrs. Clinton for a joke that fell flat, that's just fine. But when the GOP plays up the matter in the fall campaign, consistency demands that the media be equally harsh on the Repub party for exploiting the issue. I'm not optimistic.

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