By Dave Lindorff
I would not have thought that the coverage of the US presidential campaign could get more shallow and meaningless, and then, along comes the plagiarism story.
OMG! Barack Obama, the silver-tongued front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, lifted a couple of lines and an idea from the black governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. Patrick, himself something of a wordsmith, had been hit with the same attack by a wooden opponent, and responded by saying that words matter, and citing Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" line and the Declaration of Independence's ringing "all men are created equal."
Obama, whose oratorical skills have left the robotic and monotonous Hillary Clinton sounding like a pull-string Barbie on the stump (remember "Math is hard!"?), has had the Clinton campaign frantically casting around for a rejoinder, and the best they could come up with to date was a charge that he's "all hat and no cattle" (itself a line lifted, uncredited, from Texas populist Jim Hightower, if I recall, though I think it has an older lineage among Texans, and has been appropriately applied to President Bush on numerous occasions). Obama decided to respond using some of Patrick's lines.
Now, one could argue that Obama would have been better advised to give fair attribution to Gov. Patrick, but since when have politicians gone around putting footnotes on their public speeches? Most political speeches are excercises in cut and paste, full of regurgitated pablum and lifted quotes. If plagiarism were a political crime, 90 percent of members of Congress would be out on their ears. (For that matter, if plagiarism were a crime, Hillary Clinton herself would be behind bars. Her book, "It Takes a Village," was largely written by Barbara Feinman, a Georgetown University journalism prof who was reportedly offered $120,000 for the job, but her name appeared nowhere in the volume, which Clinton still claims as her own work.)
Besides, come on now! We're not nominating an English professor, god knows. If we were, how in hell would we have had Bush for president for the last what seems like eternity, with his maddening use of the word "nukular," his drunken "sh" slurs all over the place, his grammatical attrocities, and his mangled quotes (remember "if you fool me once..."?)?
Excuse me, but we have a criminal $1-trillion war raging in Iraq that is sucking the lifeblood out of the American economy, killing American troops by the day and slaughtering innocent Iraqis by the hundred thousands, we have an economy that's racing for the toilet like a party-goer who ate too many bad shrimps, we have bridges collapsing, we have the North Pole ice vanishing faster than Bush's credibility, and the media are focussed laser-like on what? The momentious question of whether Obama lifted a quote from Gov. Patrick without acknowledgement?
We have Democrats trying to decide whether to select a woman senator who used insider information to make a killing in cattle futures, who has accepted massive donations from the healthcare industry and military contractors, who voted enthusiastically if cynically for George Bush's Iraq War, and whose husband wants nothing more than a new shot at some eager White House interns, or a black senator who spoke out against that war before it happened, when to do so was to risk being called a traitor by the Commander in Chief and his minions, and the best our vaunted "independent" media pundits can do is what? Accuse Obama of plagiarism?
We could use some reporting on Clinton's and Obama's corporate backing, on the key people advising them on foreign affairs and domestic economic policy, some serious challenges on how each candidate will actually address climate change issues, and on how they can do anything without attacking the out-of-control military budget. Instead we get this "big" plagiarism story as the main event of the Wisconsin primary.
Thank you, Fourth Estate, for making us a well-informed citizenry.
DAVE LINDORFF is a PHiladelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net