Paul Greenberg

The editorial was written well before Barack Obama delivered his riposte, and at the time we had only the barest knowledge of who Deval Patrick was, let alone what he'd said in a similar speech two years before. Does that make us plagiarists, too?

It's not as though, like Joe Biden years ago, Barack Obama had stolen an autobiographical speech from some British politician he'd chanced upon. That wasn't just plagiarism; it was a form of identity theft. Stealing somebody else's words is wrong; stealing his life story is just plain pathetic.

Any editorial writer knows the temptation of copping a good line. It can be irresistible at times. (Though when I do it, please note, it's not plagiarism but literary allusion.) But in this case, Barack Obama's response was so predictable that it didn't rise to the level of plagiarism.

To top it off, somebody unearthed a line from one of Bill Clinton's forgettable inaugural addresses that he'd co-opted from a dead friend's letter. Is he a plagiarist, too, by his wife's solemn-ass definition? Oh, please.

One reason Clinton femme is not doing well this election year is the widespread dread at the prospect of having to listen to her hopelessly wooden voice for the next four, even eight, years as Big Sister hectors the rest of us direct from the Oval Office. Always for our own good, of course, which of course she knows better than we ever could.

The big reason Hillary Clinton is in trouble is Hillary Clinton. Does the woman ever say anything original, striking, new? Her speeches seem little but a collection of tired slogans, flapping like tattered wash on a line. (Which is how Mencken the Magnificent described Warren G. Harding's oratorical style.) The lady is, however, safe from committing plagiarism. With her tinnest of ears, how would she recognize prose good enough to steal?

In contrast, Barack Obama's may be the best performance by a presidential candidate since William Jennings Bryan's virtuoso performance in 1896. Elegant, eloquent, electrifying, this Mister Cool flashes across the political scene like a meteor. What a contrast with Senator/Schoolmarm Clinton, who seems to be forever ordering us about in that toneless voice. The natural reaction to her attitude, a cross between condescension and compulsion, is to vote for somebody else.

Epilogue: After having been embarrassed by this hyped-up charge of plagiarism against her opponent, Senator Clinton denied her campaign was behind it. Instead, she blamed the accusation on that universal scapegoat, the press. ("It's not us making this charge, it's the media.")

That claim failed the simplest fact check. Her PR man, Howard Wolfson, had held an hour-long conference call to float the accusation, then repeated it the next day. Nor did she leave all the dirty work to her flack. She dutifully echoed him: "If your whole candidacy is about words, those words should be your own. That's what I think."

When she tried that shtick during her debate with clean-cut Mr. Obama in Austin last week, the groans from the audience were audible. When it comes to rhetorical style, a fast learner she isn't. Her reliance on war-room one-liners now seems terribly dated, a relic of the '90s. Obama's ability to rise above the mean fray has captured the imagination of a public tried of the old soundbite politics. Which may be why, at least for the moment, he's left her so far behind, and below.

Fighting dirty in a hard-fought campaign is one low thing; denying you did it is lower. Which is why, in a thousand words or so, American voters are rejecting Hillary! these days. There's a reason the word Clintonesque entered the language as a synonym for disingenuousness. It's also why Americans are rejecting the presidential candidate whose nomination, we were told not long ago, was inevitable.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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