What's My Line?
02-19-2008
I have been following the flap over Barack Obama’s appropriation of language from a 2006 speech given by his friend, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Like Patrick, Obama employs several famous phrases from our country’s political lexicon, including the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to argue that words can serve as an inspirational and effective call to political action. Obama, in particular, is responding to Hillary Clinton’s relentless criticism that his soaring rhetoric is a pale substitute for her own policy solutions approach.
 
So, how bad is this for Obama? Well, while it doesn’t exactly put him in Joe Biden territory, it is no doubt an unwelcome distraction for the Obama campaign, one that could last for several news cycles. It is fair to say that much of the interest in Obama has been driven by his remarkable oratory, which has inspired many citizens to become engaged in the political process. Any successful challenge to its authenticity would strike at the heart of Obama’s brand of movement politics.
 
Obama is fortunate that the stirring piece of rhetoric in question was drawn from Patrick. Both men claim to regularly trade speech suggestions, and they share David Axelrod as a campaign advisor. It is also true that were Obama to pause during this portion of his speech to credit Patrick, it would certainly weaken the rhetorical impact of the moment. Still, having watched the video of both speeches, I would bet that seeing Patrick deliver those same dramatic lines first in public makes some Obama supporters just a little bit queasy.


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