Plagiarize This!

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Planet Punditry has been abuzz these past few days over the alleged plagiarism committed by Sen. Barack Obama in a campaign speech in which he copied Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s use of quotations from Martin Luther King, Jr. Thomas Jefferson, FDR and JFK without crediting Gov. Patrick.

That’s right. So I guess if I were to come across a particularly effective use of a quotation from Patrick Henry by a writer on this web site, I would be obliged to say: "As Bill Huff (let us say) said, Patrick Henry said…" And then if you were to read my essay and wanted to use that same quotation, you would be obliged to say:

"As Jack Kenny noted, Bill Huff cited those unforgettable words of Patrick Henry, u2018Give me liberty or…’"

Give me a break!

In case you missed it, Sen. Charisma was responding to repeated claims by Mme. Hillarious that Sen. Charisma offers the voters of America nothing but words — beautiful, noble, high-minded oratory, with nothing but speeches and crowd excitement to show as accomplishments. Apparently, the same charge had been made against Patrick by his eminently forgettable Republican opponent in 2006. So Captain Charisma responded in the same way, citing the importance of "mere words."

"u2018I have a dream.’ Just words? u2018We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words? u2018Ask not what your country can do for you’…" And so on.

Now, because Obama did not credit Patrick, the Clinton camp is charging, "plagiarism." It may get pettier than that and probably will, but that’s bad enough for now.

Now it turns out that in his first Inaugural Address, President Bill Clinton employed the words of another without attribution. As Sam Roberts pointed out in Wednesday’s New York Times (See how I am carefully attributing things?), the new president began his speech that January day with a reference to the "depth of winter," quickly followed by the invocation of a "spring reborn in the world’s oldest democracy, that brings forth the vision and courage to reinvent America."

Never mind, for the moment, the hubris involved in the notion that President Clinton, the choice of a minority of those voting, was charged with the mission to "reinvent America." The point Mister Roberts (whom I cite once again) was making is that those words were, as Clinton later recalled, found on a page in a typewriter of the Rev. Tim Healey, a friend of the new president’s and a former mentor at Georgetown, a Jesuit university. Roberts wrote that Clinton said (See, I’m still not plagiarizing) the words were in a letter the priest was writing to Clinton at the time of his fatal heart attack. (The Clintons have that effect on a lot of people.) The priest was, so Roberts said that Clinton said, offering some suggestions for the Inaugural Address.

Now was Rev. Healey acting as a volunteer speechwriter or was he writing as an authority, who expected to be cited as such if and when his thoughts and words were used in the address? Well, Mr. Roberts quoted Jimmy Breslin, who, Mr. Roberts said, wrote in Breslin’s Newsday column a few days after the Inaugural:

"When Healy sent Clinton that phrase it was with the idea that he would be alive and that he would hear Clinton say, u2018In the words of the Rev. Tim Healy…’"

Well, as Bob Dole, President Clinton’s vanquished challenger in the 1996 election might say, "Whatever." (I apologize for being unable to find the original source for "Whatever.")

Now back to that business about "reinventing America." That one slipped by me at the time. I know that early in his first term, the Boy Wonder of Arkansas delegated to Vice Predator Al Gore the task of "Reinventing Government," a big enough job. (I loved Joe Sobran’s typically deft response: "How about reinventing freedom?") But I didn’t know King Bubba himself was planning to "reinvent America." But maybe that’s the same thing. For the Clintons and others of their mindset, America and the American government are pretty much the same thing. There is not much room for any aspect of America that is not supervised, subsidized and legitimized by the government.

That includes, need I say, the "right to choose" abortion, which right exists and may be found, say the wizards of the high court, in the penumbras of other, enumerated rights that point to an unspecific, unarticulated "right of privacy." So one woman’s act in privacy, carried out in conjunction with her physician and anyone else she chooses to include in the decision, is something you and I must pay for, even if one or both of us believe it is an unjust and immoral act — namely the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. And that is true even if you or I or both of us believe that abortion is to the late 20th and early 21st Century what slavery was to an earlier era: something that caused Thomas Jefferson to say (as cited by Bartlett and others), "I tremble for my country when I know that God is just."

That’s what the "right to privacy" and "freedom of choice" has come to mean to people of a mindset shared by Clinton, Obama and nearly every Democratic office holder above the rank of state representative (and most of the state "reps," too). In fact, the Arkansas BillHillies arrived in Washington at least 20 years too late. America had already been "reinvented" by 1993 — most memorably and dramatically, on January 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

There is one thing Supreme Court decisions and speeches by presidents and candidates for president have in common: they make you hope that they live up to Mark Twain’s observation about Wagner (as cited by many before me), that "Wagner’s music is better than it sounds."

Unfortunately, these usurpers of America’s liberties are not better than they sound. If anything, they are worse, which is why the Clintons wish to play on our fears of the "silver-tongued devil." (Forgive me, but I don’t know who coined the phrase "silver-tongued devil." I do know that in the early 1970’s, singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson came out with a song, which I believe was also the title of an album, "The Silver-Tongued Devil and I." But don’t quote me on that.) Strange that the Clintons should be warning us of a slick, smooth-talking candidate for president now. Sort of like Goebbels warning against propaganda or Elizabeth Taylor warning us of the dangers of celebrating film stars who have made frequent divorce and remarriage part of their "lifestyles."

I mean it, Bob Dole is looking and sounding better all the time. No silver-tongued devil he, Bob Dole simply attributed most good things to Bob Dole — you know, Bob Dole will do this, Bob Dole won’t do that, Bob Dole is not afraid to say or do some other thing. Asked finally why he didn’t simply say "I," Bob Dole said (as quoted in the New York Times and elsewhere) "You get your name out there the other way."

But Bob Dole on the campaign trail used to read aloud the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor denied by it to the States are reserved to the State respectively, or to the people." Now Dole did that with proper attribution. But if he had forgotten where he found that principle and quoted it and acted on it anyway, I would not have minded.

Would you?

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.

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