Posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Chances are you’ve seen the video clips. First comes Sen. Barack Obama,
responding to the charge that he’s long on rhetoric, short on substance.
“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” Obama told voters. “‘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.” It’s rhetorically brilliant, even
thrilling. In four pungent sentences, delivered in an accent and cadence
very like Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Obama associates himself with King,
Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s bedrock Americanism,
sheer magic. No wonder Obama has amassed fervent mass of followers. It’s
also a steal from Obama’s friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. You
can watch Patrick on YouTube delivering virtually identical remarks to a
cheering crowd in 2006. Obama’s better, a far more convincing actor. But
is it plagiarism, as the Hillary Clinton campaign charges? Well, if I
passed it off as mine in a column, I’d be fired, deservedly so. It would
merit an F in a student term paper. But it’s a political speech, and
Patrick, who probably didn’t write it himself—consultant David Axelrod
masterminded both men’s campaigns—says he’s not offended.
Obama dismisses it as a minor gaffe. Any Democrat who didn’t get a
queasy feeling, however, has definitely succumbed to Obamamania. Back in
1988, Sen. Joe Biden’s presidential run ended after he borrowed a line
from British Labour leader Neil Kinnock. To the Washington media, it
proved that he was a big faker, who, in the usual formulation, “would
say or do anything” to become president.
It’s also not the first time that Obama’s been accused of lifting
others’ words. Announcing his own presidential candidacy in 1993, Sen.
John Edwards said, “I haven’t spent most of my life in politics... but
I’ve spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change
For months, Obama has been saying, “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time
learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know
that the ways of Washington must change.” An Edwards aide commented
dryly, “Next thing you know, he’ll be rooting for the Tar Heels.”
Of course, they all run against Washington, except Sen. Clinton, who’s
touting her experience. There are a limited number of ways to say it.
But did you catch Obama in South Carolina, warning African American
audiences, “Don’t be hoodwinked, don’t be bamboozled”? You can also
Google those words and watch actor Denzel Washington deliver them in
Spike Lee’s brilliant film “Malcolm X”: “You’ve been hoodwinked,
bamboozled, led astray, run amok.”
The irony of Obama’s borrowing the fictive words of Malcolm X, a black
Muslim, to rebut a scurrilous e-mail campaign calling him a secret
Islamist would be almost disabling, except for the greater one: All this
was going on while Obama’s media acolytes were accusing the Clinton
campaign of “playing the race card.” (A brilliant tactic to guarantee
landslide defeat in South Carolina.)
In context, Malcolm X was warning audiences to disbelieve politicians
sent by the “white man.”
Speaking of Black Muslims, are you aware that the charismatic pastor of
Obama’s Chicago church, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who invented the
phrase “the audacity of hope” and whose “Afro-Centric” gospel has
already been parodied on FOX News, is an admirer of Nation of Islam
leader Louis Farrakhan? Last year, Wright presented Farrakhan with a
Lifetime Achievement award.
That and Obama’s longtime relationship with Columbia University
Professor (and one-time PLO adviser) Rashid Khalidi have provoked
speculation in the Israeli press that he may be secretly anti-Zionist.
Another Chicago academic ally of Obama’s is Professor William Ayers, a
Weather Underground radical in the 1970s.
Obama’s Chicago benefactor, Syrian American real estate mogul Tony
Rezko, goes on trial in a federal court next week. The prosecutor is
Patrick Fitzgerald, the judge former Kenneth Starr aide Amy St. Eve.
Evidence embarrassing to Obama will not be kept hidden.
Did you know that Obama campaigned in Kenya for opposition leader Raila
Odinga, who claims to be his distant cousin? That Odinga has been
accused of scheming to bring Sharia, or Islamic law, to Kenya? How
credibly? Would it matter once GOP propagandists got to work on Obama?
So far, Obama’s strategy of playing upon the Washington media clique’s
loathing for everything Clinton has succeeded. To the extent that
Hillary Clinton is polarizing, however, it’s due to 16 years of
deliberate character assassination, accusing her of everything,
including drug smuggling and murder. The basic GOP method is to portray
Democrats as fraudulent elitists who “Blame America First” and seek
power by encouraging minorities to see themselves as victims. (The real
victims, of course, being Rush Limbaugh listeners.) Obama, alas, has
given them plenty to work with. If he wins the nomination, will voters
still recognize him come November?
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.