The Magazine

Light-Fingered Obama

Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20
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As good as President Obama is at blaming others, he’s just as egregious at failing to give people credit when he uses their thoughts in a speech. The prime example: his second Inaugural Address delivered last week.

Obama's light fingers

One of his favorite tropes in the speech was to begin a new idea with “We, the people.” He did this five times. He used it to introduce the notion that “every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” And he invoked it again to insist that we “still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.” And so on. This came straight out of Reagan’s State of the Union address in 1987—or at least emulated the manner in which Reagan used “We, the people” in his speech. Reagan, who had excellent speechwriters, used the trope five times.

The other victim of Obama’s pilferage was Abraham Lincoln, the president with whom Obama likes to identify himself. He swore his oath of office on Lincoln’s Bible and scheduled his State of the Union address on February 12, Lincoln’s birthday. Obama was asked recently if he’d experienced a “Lincoln moment.” Now he has.

Obama said: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.” Notice how close this is to Lincoln’s second inaugural, in which he said, “Yet, if God wills that it continue until .  .  . every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword .  .  .”

That wasn’t all. An Obama passage expressed the same thought as expressed in Lincoln’s message to Congress on the Emancipation Proclamation. Obama declared: “We have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges.” Lincoln, not surprisingly, said it better: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Obama also lifted from the Gettysburg Address, but you get the picture. His artlessness was exposed in the Wall Street Journal by Karl Rove, former adviser to George W. Bush, and by Mona Charen in National Review. The effect of poaching from Lincoln, Charen wrote, “was like inserting snatches of Mozart into a Mariah Carey song.”

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