A New York Times story today raises questions about whether Senator Barack Obama is guilty of plagiarism, because he is using lines from a speech previously given by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Patrick and Obama are friends, and Patrick says he previously discussed the lines with Obama.
Plaigarizing? Well the Merriam Webster dictionary says “plaigarizing” is “to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own.” By not citing Governor Patrick during the speech, he did pass off Patrick’s words and ideas as his own.
Indications of a catastrophic character flaw? I just don’t see it. It was dumb, but it was not Watergate or lying about reasons to go to war.
Bad strategic decision? Absolutely. Any politically savvy person should be able to see that using these lines without citing the original user would distract from the important “words matter” message.
This strikes me as a bit different from the Joe Biden plaigarism controversy of several years back, but it is wrong. And man is it a dumb and ill-timed stumble.
Obama should come out today and say something like this: “Governor Patrick shared his lines, and I’m glad I used them. They make a powerful and critically important point. But I obviously should have attributed them to him, because that’s what you do. In the mad rush of the campaign, I made a boneheaded mistake. I regret it, and I take complete responsibility for it. No “buts…” No “howevers…” No excuses. I made a mistake and I am very sorry for it.”
If you want to signal a change from the arrogant, unrepentant Clinton and W Administrations, that would signal a change.