In his critique of President Obama’s State of the Union address, presidential historian Alvin Felzenberg recognized numerous instances of “recycled ideas” and “lines lifted” from other people’s speeches. Felzenberg summarized his assessment: “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.”
The president, at least, was an indiscriminate, bipartisan “lifter.” According to Felzenberg, he used the words and/or ideas of Woodrow Wilson, Robert Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, Margaret Thatcher, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Franklin Roosevelt — without attribution. In short, the speech was a “cutting and pasting” of some of the best lines of previous national and international leaders. One of the best lines of Mr. Obama’s speech — that America is the only nation to have been “built upon an idea” — was a tribute that Mrs. Thatcher gave to an American audience at the Heritage Foundation in 1991.
In a line that got the most sustained applause of the evening, President Obama said, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.” Felzenberg observes that not only did the president botch the quote (people change places with other people, not nations), he took the line from President Kennedy’s famous inaugural address — a speech most people with an interest in presidential politics know well.
Then there’s the humorous account of salmon being the responsibility of one department when in fresh water and another when in salt water. Felzenberg points out that it’s amazingly similar to an incident Franklin Roosevelt wrote about concerning bears — some bears, according to FDR were property of the Interior Department while others belonged to the National Park System.
In the American Thinker, Jack Cahill reminds readers that this is not the first time that President Obama has been accused of plagiarism. In the campaign of 2008, President Obama responded to Hillary Clinton’s accusation that Mr. Obama merely gave “pretty speeches.” His response was remarkably similar to that of Deval Patrick in 2006 who responded to a similar charge. Obama’s version was, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter, ‘I have a dream.’ Just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’ Just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words? Just speeches?”
President Obama’s responded defensively in 2008 when a New York Times reporter asked about plagiarism, “I’ve written two books. I wrote most of my speeches.”
You can count on it; historians are working to check out the authenticity of those two claims.