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Borrowed words

Justin Webb | 02:40 UK time, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The spat over whether Obama plagiarised the words of Deval Patrick - the black Governor of Massachusetts - is almost too ludicrous to be serious. The idea that Obama is a phoney - that he simply copied this movement from others - is so plainly barmy as to make me wonder whether the Clinton people are deluded or desperate. The charge is also - I can reveal - old. BBC senior producer Adi Raval brings this to my attention - note the date!

Deval Patrick

They will have to do better than that. In Texas meanwhile things are looking close.

And a well-informed but hardly surprising glimpse of what lies in store for Obama if he manages to topple her is contained here.

The other issue of the moment: did John McCain shoot himself in the foot by seeking and receiving the backing of President Bush Senior?

It was a rather elderly gathering to be sure - not as energetic as an Obama rally. Not utterly future oriented. Yet who knows what will be cool in November. America looks at the moment like No Country for Old Men - but change could be yesterday's cry by then...

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 02:58 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Jude Kirkham wrote:

It's funny how politics lends itself to movie comparisons sometimes. If the Republican drama brings to mind "No Country For Old Men" then is the Democratic race "The Hottie and the Nottie"? It wasn't so much age that sprung to mind upon seeing Bush senior standing next to McCain as the absense of Bush junior.

The clinton campaign have changed the news haven't they? That is the aim - stop the media fawning over him and in that regard, it has appeared to work.

Empty rhetoric that's not even his own is a tough charge to take.

Wisconsin will reveal all tomorrow.

  • 3.
  • At 03:26 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Lisa wrote:

What the plagiarism argument does is bring Clinton a day's news cycle. Unfortunately for her, the media didn't seem to buy what she was selling. But it still got some people talking, and it inflamed those who were already supporting her, which may get them out to vote. I doubt it will have any type of significant impact on what happens in Wisconsin or Hawaii (especially Hawaii).

Especially since Monday is President's Day in the United States (how appropriate). It's a day for picnics and family gatherings, not a day to poor over newspapers and have serious political debates. There are far fewer people sitting at their desks at work reading the news online.

  • 4.
  • At 03:59 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Stephen wrote:

The Clintons will do anything to regain power. But then again, it was *technically* plagairism, even if the original speaker now says he gives Obama permission to use the exact same phrases. (He's giving him cover, presumably because he supports Obama.)

The issue is made moot, however, now that Hillary herself has been seen to have used Obama's exact phrases, such as "Yes we can!" and "Fired up and ready to go."

The elder Bush was never much of a conservative, so his endorsement of someone who is barely a conservative makes great sense. It helps nor hurts the septagenarian McCain.

  • 5.
  • At 05:35 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

Being endorsed by the encumbant, and then accused of plagerism seems to just play into Obama's raison d'etre. Change is in the air for now...but with the latest attempts by Hillary and McCain, is there any reason why the "change" message will change (pun not intended) and not linger in the minds of the voters?

Perhaps only the economy will affect that.

  • 6.
  • At 07:07 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • David Cunard wrote:

Perhaps if the two speeches had not been placed on YouTube the matter might not have arisen. For a better perspective, see the comments of a paper which endorsed Obama, but which voters ignored:,0,7743616.story

  • 7.
  • At 07:39 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Rowina O'Neill wrote:

Are you seriously suggesting most politicians still write their own speeches? If lifting words from a friend is a charge, then so must be having your grand campaign rhetoric written by a team of PR professionals.

  • 8.
  • At 07:41 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Michal, Krakow wrote:

Just a good-looking, crowd-satisfying, love-sowing hypnotising preacher. He talks and talks, and says nothing at all, but what a form!!!

So what? It`s all about charisma.

Leaders don`t need to be competent, they must be loved. That`s why Obama is going to win and apparently the Clintons have already realised that.

What next? Another wave of terrorism and.. we`ve got president John McCain!!

  • 9.
  • At 07:57 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Renier Wolfcastle wrote:

Agree with the comments about Bush Snr's endorsement of McCain. It hardly gives a forward looking image. I'd have thought that the last thing Bob Dole's Grandpa needs is the support of a one term loser with a history of getting his backside kicked by the Clintons.
Re a previous post on superdelegates -bbc system acted up when I tried to post at the time. It's not only the Democrats who have a democratic deficit. It seems that despite losing the Louisiana primary to Huckabee, McCain is to pick up nearly all the delegates. It may not alter the final outcome but it does seem that the GOP manages to do it's fixes with less publicity than the Dems.

Justin, I'm in complete agreement: barmy is a perfect word. It reeks of desperation and straw-clutching, and to those of us dying for a fresh approach to politics, seems very, very tired.

  • 11.
  • At 09:13 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Obama could go a great deal further by picking up allusive references to a whole range of texts: Job, the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and St Paul; Seneca, Machiavelli, Milton, and Voltaire; the founding fathers and Lincoln; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Bob Dylan. What his speech writers need to learn is not straight copying but the ability to use half a phrase and leave the other half heard but unsaid: there are many here ... let us not talk falsely ... This is what Ben Jonson did in the finest of his poems: he would say one thing, but if you knew the references, you would here quite another: the criticism was not in the words but the allusion.

  • 12.
  • At 09:53 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Jay wrote:

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right about America," Mrs Clinton, in a speech to a Hispanic group this week.

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America,", Bill Clinton - 20 January 1993.

  • 13.
  • At 10:19 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Jennifer wrote:

Folks who are pushing this plagiarism thing are missing the point completely: Barack uses OUR voices on the campaign trail, constantly incorporating riffs and phrases that communicate his theme of change coming from the bottom up. He borrowed "fired up and ready to go" from the sweet lady in South Carolina, "we are the ones we've been waiting for" from Maria Shriver, and I'm sure there are countless others.

This guy doesn't believe every single good idea has to originate inside his own skull to be relevant. He had absolutely no input into the "yes we can" video, yet there it on his website. He doesn't micromanage, He INSPIRES. And he doesn't exclude, he INCLUDES. Other's voices, other's ideas, and yes, other's words. He has core principles that guide him, but he's willing to listen. And he knows effective ideas and thoughts when he hears them.

When I heard the 2004 DNC speech I jumped up and yelled "YES", because he was ECHOING what I felt. It wasn't a new idea at all, in fact it was as old as the founding of our country. But to hear someone else say what I was thinking made me cry.

And I expect Barack Obama to govern the same way. Incorporating good ideas from all over into his policies. All good ideas don't have to originate from inside his head to be relevant, nor do they have to originate from our side of the aisle. That is the very heart of why this campaign is different.

  • 14.
  • At 10:27 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Craig McKee wrote:

A little off-message but I wanted a place to comment on Kevin Connelly's article where he says "why is the cash-strapped Mr Huckabee is remaining in the race...".
Huckabee has turned conventioanl logic on its head by keeping in the race. Bizarrely by running a campaign on a budget a fraction the size of other candidates he can afford to stay in. Mitt Romney could not afford (or at least did not want to keep spending) to keep camapigning as to do so would have cost him another $100M or so but Huckabee by working at grass roots with volunteers and spending hardly anything could afford to keep on going as it would only cost a couple of million to do so. Less has turned out to be more.
I do think that part of Huckabee's strategy for continuing is to begin to build local organisations in states across the US which will be there to work for a future camapaign.
It is a clever move as long he does not rock the boat too much with the party elite.

  • 15.
  • At 11:40 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • julie wrote:

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 11, 2008

"Indeed, Mrs. Clinton made some of the same arguments Sunday in New Hampshire when she defended her earnest speaking style by saying, in an indirect reference to Mr. Obama, "you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose."

That particular political maxim was first uttered in a 1985 speech at Yale University-- by [former New York governor Mario] Cuomo.

"She didn't attribute it to me, although it's in Bartlett's Quotations and they did," the former governor said, laughing."

Hillary, you throw mud, you get dirty.

  • 16.
  • At 11:58 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • davidc wrote:

i thought 'yes we can' was bob the builder'

  • 17.
  • At 11:59 AM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • J. Beeler wrote:

Considering Obama's lack of experience, lack of solid solutions and 'inspirational speeches' being his only strong point, I'd say plagerism is a pretty significant charge.

lol, unless you're an Obama supporter.

  • 18.
  • At 12:06 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Khonda wrote:

Is that all the Clintons can throw at Obama? I bet you if Obama had a shady past it would have long come out. Why doesn't Obama do an add on Bill Clinton commiting perjury. After all its him who wants a third term. I know a bad loser when I see one.

  • 19.
  • At 01:06 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • bop wrote:

He says constantly to everyone who is springing up to his feet in adulation that he is NEW. A near fifty year old claiming to be new - you have to give the bloke due credit for it! Either this or his electorate are willing muttons! That he does not take lobbyists' money ( which is showing up to be a falsehood ), that he is CHANGE - somehow, the electorate ( democratic ones mind ) are even believing that indeed he is not a politican like Clinton and others. Criticise him and we lashed those that do for being rather puny-minded, have-to do-better-than-this-am-afraid...really...what nerve! He gets by because of his race, when others have to walk the line for fear of being labeled racists ( viz the Bill Clinton phrases which were jumped on by the really-have-to-do-better-than-that brigade). Yet at every opportunity, his adulators do not fail to circumvect the opportunities to lay into Hillary Clinton ( rarely is the media saying hey wait a minute here, Hillary is being laid into mainly because of Bill Clinton's womanising trespasses). And you have to check the invectitudes that are directed towards Hillary Clinton. How many ahve said before we want a politician to talk to us about issues. Go do a check as to who does this on the campaign trail. It definitely is Hillary whilst the other candidate vaguely chant change. Obama IS the what is wrong - part of this nonsense political correct front, when it is quasi impossible to criticise a black man.

  • 20.
  • At 01:13 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Bob wrote:

I never agree with you, Mr. Webb. So I am stunned to write that this time you are dead on right. The Clinton camp has committed a fatal flaw: they have shown panic. Obama handled it perfectly by dismissing it as no big deal.

  • 21.
  • At 01:18 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • hhkeller wrote:

Saw three speeches on Youtube which were totally ripped by Obama.
Whats he thinking or not thinking?

When you entire campaign is based on your eloquence you should stay on message and speak your own words.
Borrowing whole speeches looks high school.

  • 22.
  • At 02:16 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Pravin Gandhi wrote:

I wonder if the media would have treated Hillary in the same manner, if she had plagiarized in a manner similar to what Obama did. This incident shows that Obama is running out of words to recycle repeatedly his message. At present, Obama is riding high on the wave of popularity and invincibility that the media has created. Further, we have no evidence that he has any ability to survive a strong challenge and personal attacks from the Republicans.

  • 23.
  • At 02:28 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • john wrote:

After videos of Hillary stealing speech lines from both Obama and John Edwards yesterday on News headlines I believe it will have no effect...

May even hurt her more for during the same and calling someone else out.

  • 24.
  • At 02:32 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Lewis wrote:

Surely ad hominem attacks such as this do little to affect voters' intentions? No one is going to base their vote on whether he may or may not have 'plagiarised' another politician. I believe the only possible longer-term consequence of this may be that people continue to tire of the Clinton campaign's negative campaigning. I get the impression that for the Clinton team it's about Hilary winning election, not the Democratic Party, and if she fails to attain the nomination they aren't that bothered about who does.

On another note, is it not now inevitable that they will get to the convention with no clear leader, and this being true, does anyone have any idea how the super-delegate situation will go? Or will everyone turn up without a clue? Both Clinton and Obama have such a strong partisan base that neither will conceded sufficient ground for the other to get sufficient delegates.

  • 25.
  • At 02:41 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Mary wrote:

It *does* matter. There's very little difference between Barack Obama borrowing Patrick's speech, and an student passing off a friend's essay as his own. Obama says he'll bring change; integrity in Washington isn't part of it, apparently.

  • 26.
  • At 02:54 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • walt wrote:

This is why a lot of Americans have an intense dislike for Mrs. Clinton. She will say and do anthything to obtain power. In other words, Americans haven't seen this much lying from a presidential candidate since Richard Nixon.

  • 27.
  • At 03:24 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • John Crumley wrote:

Some people seem to be having trouble spelling the word 'plagiarised'. Could we have an easier topic to comment on, please?! Yet if we must we talk of plagiarism... it must be noted that Hillary has used Obama's slogans in her own speeches recently, which trumps her own charge. On the post-Hillary scenario won't Republicans be too amazed at a Clinton defeat (something they conspicuously failed to achieve) to combat Obama effectively?

  • 28.
  • At 03:49 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Andrea wrote:

You cannot expect Obama's words to be off limits, since they are his deadliest political weapon. Be sure that you will see increasing scrutiny of his words.

Many US politicians would not want to be caught using another's words, so it's not surprising to see Clinton charge him with this.

  • 29.
  • At 04:26 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • CJ McAuley wrote:

This smacks of desperation from the Clinton camp. I wonder how the use of phrases that were 1st "plagiarized" by other(s)can be dealt with. The nomination campaign is not a university paper; where every reference must be noted! It is ironic that a country that revolted against royalty has evolved into a de facto "governing families" system over the past 20-odd years! For a person who is essentially riding on her husband's coat tails, this is the height of hypocrisy!

  • 30.
  • At 04:31 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Jude Awuba wrote:

This just proves once again that the Clinton's will say anything to get elected.

Clinton has used the phrases " Fired Up, Ready to go", " Yes We can". Has anyone accused her of plagarism?

It is a desperate attempt by the Clinton's camp to stop Obama's momemtum. They really can't.

Obama 08

  • 31.
  • At 04:38 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Kenneth Tipper wrote:

As an "old" man of 86, who really doesn't feel his age, I was offended by the designation of the Bush Sr. and McCain endorsement event as a "rather elderly gathering", and the crass suggestion that America is "No Country For Old Men". The sight of those two "old" warriors (Bush Sr. is about my age), was inspiring to this writer, and reinforced my determination to still be around to vote for McCain in November. I defy you to deny that McCain certainly does not look or act 71 years of age.

And may I suggest that with age comes wisdom.

  • 32.
  • At 05:12 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Elaine Gilmartin wrote:

Thomas Jefferson lifted most of the Declaration of Independence from other sources. Does that make those words any LESS powrful, any LESS relevant? Same goes for the Constitution. If Patrick doesn't care, then why should Clinton? Oh yeah, she's grasping for straws, that's why. Just like the public financing claim of "not playing by the rules" when she now wants to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan, thereby changing the rules in midstream of the game?

  • 33.
  • At 05:40 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Phill Edou wrote:

The plagiarism point cited by the Clinton camp is just stupid, irrelevant and nonsense. It s a clear sign that they are loosing ground and feel desperate.
Obama 08

  • 34.
  • At 05:51 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Edward S wrote:

Wherever Clinton campaigns hard, I expect her to do better than forecast by the polls, including exit polls.

We'll see whether I am correct in Wisconsin, and then in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

For one thing, she is stronger on the essential issues of the economy and health care.

  • 35.
  • At 06:13 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Suprice wrote:


  • 36.
  • At 06:28 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Mary wrote:

"Who knows what will be cool in November? America looks at the moment like No Country for Old Men -but change could be yesterday's cry by then."

O and I suppose other countries's populations are better? I hate to break it to you, but I just finished surveying the message board on Castro's stepping down as the Cuban leader, witnessing, much to my shock and dismay, that the most reccomended comments on it were (British) people complaining of how Castro's health care system as emensly better than that in the UK, and suggesting that perhaps the UK adopt a communist system of government so as to ensure its citizens the same excilent health care enjoyed by the Cubans.

My point? To point out that while, yes indeed Americans view their country and the world in the light of the current events happening in them respectivly when going to the poles, but so too do French, British, and just about every other nationality around the world. My God! You only need look at Italy's history of prime ministers if you need further proof of this point!

  • 37.
  • At 06:58 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • stephanie wrote:

Maybe it is also worthwhile to bring to people's attention that the MA governor has been doing an awful job after winning the election on "words" of hope.

  • 38.
  • At 07:48 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Ted wrote:

Hillary's plagiarism attack on Obama is as immature as it is desperate. I thought she was running a decent campaign up until that point. The voters will have the final say on this "issue". I was on the fence as to which candidate I preferred. With this ridiculous attack on Obama, my choice is now set. Thank you, Hillary, for making it clear whom I should vote for.

  • 39.
  • At 08:51 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • walter mitty wrote:

Bop, I should really ignore your comments but I'm bored, so I won't. You cite fear of being labelled a racist as a reason why someone wouldn't critisize Obama. I think you're way off the mark. It may not remain this way when the primaries are over but I believe the campaign has been fascinating up to now because so far it has transcended race. And gender for that matter. It was Bill who brought race into the fore when he compared Obama to Jesse Jackson.
As for being NEW or young - Mc Cain could be his father. I do however think his squeeky clean image will end up hurting him against the GOP : noone can be president without somehow giving the nod to big business. This bottom up, grassroots campaign is working a treat for the earl stages but I'm not so sure if it's enough to win the presidency.

  • 40.
  • At 10:01 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Fulu wrote:

Hey guys it is high time that Hillary should acknowledge that she is dealing with unstoppeble TSUNAMI.i think we gonna have a problem we her as a president she is too much of a woman, she behave like a child than a mother of the wander why she uses tears as to win a vote.dirty tactics .she had shown the world that she cant stand pressure thats why she would use anything to win the is time to recognise that she is dealing with a rock an African Elephant.

  • 41.
  • At 10:14 PM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • Brendan wrote:

Over the last few months, I have very much enjoyed Justin Webb's blog on the U.S. elctions. However, I must say that I was very bothered by his choice of words in the "Borrowed Words" entry. In the first sentence, Justin, you refer to Deval Patrick as "the black governor of Massachusetts." The fact that Deval Patrick is African-American is totally irrelevant to this story. In my country, most of us realized a long time ago that we are all AMERICANS, regardless of black or white or any other race. Had the "Borrowed Words" been relevant to race, I suppose color would have mattered. But in this instance Justin, you cannot deny that had Obama "lifted" his words from, say, Ted Kennedy, your entry would not have read, "the white Senator from Massachusetts."

  • 42.
  • At 12:33 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Kenneth Tipper wrote:

Name one significant accomplishment of Obama since he has been in the Senate. He is on the campaign trail promising the moon, with no earthly idea as to how to do it! Look at the faces of his audiences - they look as though they are hypnotised!

We need a pragmatist in the White House, not a dreamer!

  • 43.
  • At 04:53 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Shirley wrote:

Alexandria, VA

This story is too old. Obama has won 10 primaries in a row now and nobody cares about silly accusations about plagiarism.
If Gov. Patrick is not complaining, then why should anybody else?

  • 44.
  • At 08:12 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Shirley wrote:

Alexandria, VA

If the Governor Patrick is not complaining, then why is this an issue?

  • 45.
  • At 12:32 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

I always watch what foreigners buy in the US stock market because it is invariably a very reliable negative indicator. Almost everything they select from the vast array of what is available has a way of dying a sure death. This time it was the largely worthless sub prime mortgages chopped up and repackaged in fancy ribbons but it's always something. One could make a great deal of money shorting what foreigner investors are buying at any given moment. Right now there seems an overwhelming attraction both in the foreign press and around the world for Barack Obama. If the American electorate falls into the same trap of making him their president, they will likely wake up one day not too long after 1-20-09 to learn their new leader is dangerously incompetent. Three years in government, no knowledge of foreign relations and the world in evidence, little experience with the economy, barely knowing his way around the corridors of Contressional power, this charismatic lawyer demagogue will have his hands on the levers of the economy and his finger on the buttons for 10,000 nuclear weapons. Heaven help us, the last such incompetent John Kennedy nearly blew up the world. He could make us long for the good old days of President Bush. One thing I think is that Tony Blair's perpetual strategy of blaming the nation's unsolved problems on the previous administration won't fly for very long in America. He promises all the answers to all the nations' problems. What a let down his dewy eyed followers are in store for.

  • 46.
  • At 01:58 AM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • Person wrote:

Are you complete all idiots? If you watch the congressional television, you will see that all Obama's claims have been first said by Clinton.

  • 47.
  • At 05:20 PM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • John Redmond wrote:

This is a terrific race and I am enjoying the coverage. BUT is there any chance we could have a graph showing the cumulative number of delegates for Obama & Clinton on the BBC (web site & TV)? A graph would really highlight the increasing swing to Obama over the states. I found this one A graph speaks a thousand words.

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