Obama's Speeches Sound Familiar ... At Least, To Me

Posted: Mar 18, 2008 11:35 AM
As you probably remember, Barack Obama was recently accused of "plagiarizing" a Deval Patrick speech.  Frankly, I thought much of that was overwrought.

Still, I can't help but feel that when I hear Obama speak, I am really listening to a hodgepodge of other speeches.  Today's speech was a prime example ...

When Obama said,

We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
It really reminded me of Bobby Kennedy's famous speech about the assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr., where he said,

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.
And while I hear similarities in the words Obama uses, the greatest similarities I detect are more about inflection and his cadence than they are about the exact words.  

For example, today when I heard Obama say,

We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
It reminds me of Mario Cuomo's '84 convention speech when he says

... if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use.
Again, the words here aren't at all similar.  But if you are familiar with the speeches and listen to the "music," I think you'll hear the similarities (Cuomo's excellent speech is available on YouTube).  For what it's worth, it sounded to me as if Obama was using the exact inflection Cuomo used during that '84 speech ....

These are just two examples that occurred to me as I listened.  I'm far from an expert on great political speeches, but it occurs to me that when I hear Obama give a speech, I'm really listening to a "greatest hits" cd...

On MSNBC, Jonathan Capart of the Washington Post just said this is a speech that probably "only Obama could deliver."  In fact, I think Kennedy or Cuomo would have done it better ... in fact, they sort of did ...