Was Obama's State of the Union address plagiarism? 

Or alternatively, are State of the Union addresses such tired exercises in rhetorical bloat that it's difficult not to lean on others for inspiration? I mean this isn't exactly a scandal, but I think we can yet again chalk this up to another case of if George W. Bush did the same thing we'd never hear the end of it:

During his Tuesday evening address to a joint session of Congress Obama cited....

...by name the late Sen. Robert Kennedy as saying, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement."

However, a number of other passages coming out of the presidential mouth struck a few listeners as sounding vaguely familiar. Talking of the need for improved education, Obama in one prominent line said, "We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea." Hmm. Turns out, someone else said those same memorable words about the time Obama was editing the law review.

The United States, that previous politician told an American audience, is the "first nation to have been founded on an idea."  But what U.S. Democrat would want to quote Britain's conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on national TV?

Over at the U.S. News site, Alvin Felzenberg, the presidential scholar, has assembled a list of other striking coincidences, parallel constructions and references from the president's 2011 speech.

Felzenberg's piece is worth reading as well. Now Dreams of My Father, whatever you think of its politics, was a well-written book, and Obama speech at the 2004 Democratic convention was a moment of genuine rhetorical greatness. But it's been a long, long time since we've had any reminders of Obama's much-vaunted rhetorical gifts, and Tuesday's State of the Union was one of the worst in recent history. That he's cribbing key bits of his rhetoric these days isn't so much a scandal, as it is a bit sad.

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Mark Hemingway

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