Thursday, January 27, 2011


(Tweaked somewhat to omit a chronology error.)

You may know that Alvin Felzenberg has written a U.S. News blog post that accuses President Obama of plagiarism in the State of the Union address, a post that's delighted the usual Obama-haters on the right:

... Had the president submitted the text of his second State of the Union Address in the form of a college term paper, he would have been sent forthwith to the nearest academic dean....

Early in his address, Obama said that he wanted the nation he leads to be a "light to the world." The last president who set such a mission for the nation he led, and in those exact words, was Woodrow Wilson.

Um, here's part of President George W. Bush's proclamation of Law Day 2008:

Through hard work and dedication to the rule of law, members of the judiciary and the legal profession help secure the rights of individuals, bring justice to our communities, and reinforce the proud traditions that make America a beacon of light for the world.

(Hey, Bush said "for," not "to"! So it's totally original!)


...In an address to the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990, Margaret Thatcher delivered what might go down as the most memorable line in Obama’s second State of the Union address. The British Prime Minister told her American audience that the United States was the "first nation to have been founded on an idea." It took the president a few additional words to get this idea across.

Yeah, it's really appalling to steal that and not give credit for it. How dare you, John Boehner, in your address the American Legion convention last September!

Never forget that America remains the only nation on the face of the Earth founded on an idea, not an identity – an idea that free people can govern themselves, and that government’s powers are endowed only through the consent of the governed.

And how original was Thatcher, anyway? Check out what this guy found:

Google Books
Civic Reader for New Americans
New York, NY: American Book Company
Pg. 63:
We said the United States was founded on an idea. What is that idea? It is the idea of freedom.

...Google Books
May 1941,
The Survey (Survey Associates, Charity Organization Society of the City of New York), pg. 139:
You cannot say too often that the United States is a nation founded on an idea, and that’s what makes it unique; not on blood ties or old customs, but on an idea. The preservation of that idea, republican democracy, is the only form of unity America has known. — Alistair Cooke in
The Listener (London)....

There are several more of these at the link. (I bet Thatcher nicked if from Alastair Cooke.)

And, really, are we supposed to assume that this is unique to Obama? George W. Bush talked incessantly of the "ownership society" -- as he put it in a 2003 speech, "We are increasingly a nation of owners." What did Lech Walesa say in 1990?

Poland should become a nation of owners. Everyone can and should become an owner of a part of the nation's property, part of our homeland.

That was also a phrase used by the privatization-inclined Chilean labor misister, Jose Pinera, in the 1990s ("We have made a nation of owners"). And trust me, the folks around Bush knew of Pinera, because he'd been instrumental in privatizing Chilean Social Security. (Pinera is now a Cato Institute Policy Scholar.)

And has it been noted that another favorite phrase of Bush's -- "freedom agenda" -- was also the name of a 1950s organization founded by the League of Women Voters to promote democratic principles in America, Europe, and Asia?

Enough. We could play this game all day. Let's drop it.


Oh, but first one more: You know that Paul Ryan line about not letting the social safety net become a hammock? That was stolen from John Stossel! No, it was stolen from former Massachusetts governor William Weld! No, Jesse Ventura! No, Mona Charen! No ...

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