Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Obama Speech "Plagiarism" Charge Really Means

Jeffrey Feldman of Frameshop writes today about the charge of "plagiarism," made by the Clinton campaign about a recent Obama speech:

Obama did not say the same phrase as Patrick because Obama plagiarized Patrick's speeches, but because both candidates hired the same political consultant to manage the message of their campaigns. When Patrick was accused of being all-words-and-no-action by his opponent in the 2006 gubernatorial election, Axelrod devised a response for him that involved poking fun of the charge by referencing great speeches of iconic American leaders--JFK, FDR, MLK. And it worked.

When Clinton used the same critique to go after Obama, Axelrod simply reached for the same solution that had worked for Patrick and gave it to Obama.

Why not? What is wrong with doing this?

Absolutely nothing is wrong from a legal or even a political perspective. Candidates often draw on the successful messages of other politicians, both those that came before them and those against whom they are currently competing.

The problem is one of perception and image.

More than anything else, the 'plagiarism' incident has the potential to transform Obama's image from that of a singular historic figure who soars above "politics as usual," to that of a gifted, but ordinary politician--just another client of the handful of media Svengalis who pull the strings of candidates and manipulate public opinion to win elections. The curtain has suddenly dropped, and behind it we see: the political consultant.


Update: Mike Allen at Politico says he's found another example of copy-catting and Obama campaign-manager David Axelrod has taken to throwing pot-shots at Clinton rep Howard Wolfson for making the charges.