Didn’t Hamilton Say it All First? OK. . .Well what about Cicero or Shakespeare? Machiavelli?


I’m a big fan of Alexander Hamilton — though there is an article on the top of my reading pile that takes on some of us Hamilton-huggers. I was amazed by how prolific, articulate, pragmatic and sensible Hamilton was. Indeed, there is an old adage: “Washington Reigned. Hamilton Ruled. And Jefferson complained.”
But there was a phase in American history when lots of folks purloined Hamiltonisms and used them as their own in early 20th century American politics.
But that said, I wanted to share this odd little YouTube item that a friend just sent. I guess the moment that I left for Japan, this Deval Patrick/Barack Obama battle over “borrowed words” broke out — and I haven’t followed it closely. I will ‘try’ to see whether there is any there there when I get back to town — but it’s not the kind of thing that interest me.
Here is the video clip though:

I want to be fair and balanced in this not too deep critique of the current battles over whether Obama has stolen Deval’s politicking material. Maybe Obama’s campaign really is gathering and adopting style, tone, and veneer from other campaigns. Not sure why it matters — other than showing he is less authentic than the marketers would like all to believe.
But Hillary Clinton also borrowed an idea from me once without attribution — but that’s supposed to be what we think tank types hope happens.
But the odd thing about this is that after my original article appeared and was written about and referenced in lead editorials of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and (I think) the Wall Street Journal, and literally mentioned in dozens of other editorials around the country and in many follow up opeds — and House and Senate hearings with Colin Powell and mentioned as well by Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and UN Iraq Chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Oh wait, and yes — Senators Mary Landrieu and Lisa Murkowski offered a non-binding resolution that passed in the Senate right after my New York Times article appeared — referencing it in their speeches on the subject — and on which Hillary Clinton voted affirmatively.
If one even googles “Alaska Permanent Fund” and Iraq, my stuff is the first referenced.
Despite all this, Clinton and Senator John Ensign co-authored a Wall Street Journal oped making a point similar to mine that we needed an “Alaska Permanent Fund” approach to helping to build a set of new winners and new stakeholders among the citizens of Iraq. There was no acknowledgment of the New America Foundation’s efforts — but more importantly within the Senate chambers, no acknowledgment that Mary Landrieu and Lisa Murkowski had already hatched that baby.
This was one of my more vain moments actually — and I couldn’t believe that someone I liked in the Senate was launching something that had a preceding history in the world of think tankism and in the Senate. I spoke to someone in her office who said “Sorry. . .but Hillary really thought it was her own idea. . .”
So basically, I’m glad she borrowed the concept in any case — but I think both sides need to be careful about how deep the accusations of intellectual property “borrowing without acknowledgment” go.
And yes I know — borrowing rhetoric for a national campaign — “stealing words as some want to say” — is a much higher priority than a revenue-sharing scheme that might have altered the way Iraqi citizens felt about their ‘temporary’ Occupiers and their own stakes in taking their country forward.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “Didn’t Hamilton Say it All First? OK. . .Well what about Cicero or Shakespeare? Machiavelli?

  1. Kathleen says:

    Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if Gov. Patrick Duval cried plagiarism? Apparently he didn’t feel plagiarized. Besides, the words were borrowed from someone else by Duval. How silly is this going to get?
    Speech writers are never given credit for the words they write… it’s always the person delivering the speech who gets the credit… it’s understood. Duuuuh. I’ve written dozens of speeches given by others and done many position papers. The candidate is who gets the credit.
    Speech writing is an art because you have to be familiar with the candidate’s natural way of expressing themself, plus be able to express the ideas in concise, clear and interesting ways that listeners will remember. It’s a very different process than writing something that will be read, not heard. You don’t have as much time or space to convey the message and you have to be moving to boot… well a good speech does.
    Some may remember John Kerry’s line “W stand for wrong.. wrong war, wrong time, wrong place, wrong direction”.. I wrote that line. When he said it, CNN wrote on their scroll. K stand for knockout. Too bad he messed it up when he stood in front of the Grand Canyon and said if he knew then what he knows now, he’d vote the same way. He lost the lead and never regained it.


  2. Matt says:

    To clarify, I think that there were enough differences between the two speeches to just deny the charge of plagiarism on material grounds, never mind his supposed mystique.
    That said, rhetoric is the closest we’ve ever gotten to “truth” in the western tradition. You can’t use words to convince people about something and then say that words are not that important in the same and/or next breath. That’s just the plain truth–it’s as inescapable as language. But this is what Clinton has been doing for a couple weeks now–very, very, very dumb.
    On the other side of the aisle, it looks like McCain shut the lid on his coffin this evening with his Wisconsin victory speech. Bad, HORRIBLE way to start a campaign against Obama. And if I hear him say “My Friends” just one more time, I am going to go insane.


  3. DonS says:

    Steve, you know the usual skeptics are right there on the whole “mystique” thing, probably not really surprised that Obama would take the risk of appearing so inauthentic.
    Sad, really sad. My wife (who is not shy about diagreeing with me) just said she’s afraid Obama will get to be just another demagogue, and start to believe it, all his own crap.
    Heresy, I know, to those who see Obama as the next coming.
    [Take care of that throat Steve. You really do push the envelope]


  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Folks — I think that all of you have frames on this that work for you — but as someone who has been out of town and the country when all this broke, I just find it weird.
    My Obama friends see nothing wrong…and are jumping on the Clintons for the spreading of this material.
    But let’s just be honest….Obama is mimicking someone and his campaign manager is pulling the strings on this. I think that was a dumb move on any level — and as I’ve written, I have my issues with the other camp.
    But I’m surprised that so many who are rational, intelligent folks see nothing of concern here. When I see a national leader completely copy someone else, it does raise questions about authenticity.
    I have written about this before — when i wrote that I’m increasingly of the view that the candidate himself or herself is less important than the franchise and the many advisors in it.
    But while I don’t necessarily like what the Clinton camp may be spreading, the fact is that the Obama camp did stuff that raises questions. The Clintons didn’t tell them to do it.
    So, I hope that some can suspend their particular partisan passions on occasion and just call a spade a spade. As I wrote in my post on this, I’m not sure this even matters — but it doesn’t change the fact that David Axelrod is pulling the strings and deploying a mimickry of someone by his candidate; this raises questions about the promulgation of a “look” and “sound” over substance.
    Someone who wrote that Obama has been himself for years — wrote two books — etc. is right…That makes this play-acting organized by Axelrod and Co. even worse. They didn’t need to do this sort of thing.
    And that’s been my complaint about some of Obama’s posturing for a while. I like him on many substance issues — but I part company when it comes to the “mystique campaign” — some of which seems to have been borrowed.
    best, steve (returning from tokyo)


  5. tomj says:

    Maybe at the next debate, Obama can riff on this event, and lament the fact that he may not spend all his time as POTUS writing his speeches, that he may listen and learn from others, that he doesn’t live in a bubble of his own rhetoric.


  6. tomj says:

    More disgusting than the charge is the fact that it is being pushed by the ‘honest brokers’ in the Clinton campaign and broadcast by the news/entertainment shows.
    Every show asks a Clinton drone ‘whazzzz up?’ And the drone recites the inauthentic charge of how way, way, way over the line this is compared to any borrowing Clinton ever did. And then they say how disappointed they are, like: “If he hadn’t done that I was going to vote for him, but not now, I feel violated.”
    So do I, so do I.


  7. Eric the Political Hack says:

    So I guess Hillary has decided to give up on speech writers? She also writes all of her letters to constituents? Her office doesn’t use an autopen? The campaign must be desperate.


  8. CTown says:

    The Clinton campaign is running out of gas. This primary season has not gone as they expected and they forgot to make a Plan B. I fully expect them to start making fun of Obama’s ears by next week.


  9. Matt says:

    Looks like the charge of plagiarism is nothing but horsecrap to me. Besides the charge being ridiculous in a very general way, it reeks to high heaven. No doubt, the strategy is to pollute the fact that Obama has written two eloquent books without the assistance of ghost writers. “Plagiarism” rhymes with “book writing,” not with giving campaign speeches. They know about connotations and they’re just using this as an excuse to say something false and nasty. Really deplorable stuff from the Clinton campaign.


  10. tomj says:

    What the Clinton campaign really wants to do is to deprive Obama of his message. His message is beyond the words he uses. Words are the tool. If he wrote them in a book, where time and reflection, and tradition allow and require attribution, it would be a real sin. But the words go with the delivery, he made them his own, by this delivery which was authentic. I’m not listening to the words for authenticity, but to the delivery.
    Hillary doesn’t get it, or hopes that Obama’s supporters don’t get it.


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