Plagiarism in Politics: The New Philosophy of Forgiveness in the Borrowing of Other People’s Work
While some will consider Hillary Clinton’s accusation of plagiarism against Barack Obama as major desperation–the problem of unknowing plagiarism is increasing due to a busy world of creative ideas and works. If there aren’t a thousand litigation battles over the supposed stealing of someone else’s creative work, it’s a million. And perhaps half of them are thrown out by a rare, sensible judge who realizes that many plagiarism lawsuits are a waste of precious time. Those attuned to history, though, will remember that when a Presidential candidate gets accused of stealing someone’s else’s words in a speech–it unfortunately brought on major problems, no thanks to those who think words are as much of a financial commodity as gold. It’s almost ironic then that the speech Barack Obama borrowed from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has the phrase “Just words.”
People understand the power of words and how the power of them translates through the aura of the person rather than the words standing alone. In that regard, things have probably changed with public opinion on plagiarism. I say with confidence that long after this article goes to press–nobody will even remember the incident involving Barack Obama’s borrowed lines from a speech and will easily survive his candidacy if not getting the Democratic nomination. To prove my point, you only need to look back at other plagiarism cases in the world of politics and how every one of them were either forgotten or forgiven. Of course, that all depends on the severity of the plagiarism. It’s quite clear, though, that the world accepts the inevitability of small amounts happening in a world of constant-clashing creative ideas.
To show an example of how Presidential candidates can easily sweep the Scarlet Letter of plagiarism under the rug–all you have to do is look at recent Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden. Most people have probably forgotten that when he first ran for President in 1988–he had two cases of plagiarism slapped on him. The first was from evidence he failed a law exam when in college after his professor noticed that Biden had plagiarized some material. At the time, Biden threw it off as merely a regretful mistake due to not citing his sources on his exam. And, of course, that probably brought on enough guffawing from the opposing campaign management to give a pain in the side. Biden’s statement was likely enough reason why he dropped out of the Presidential race before 1988 even hit.
But that second plagiarism accusation was very similar to the current Clinton-Obama situation. In 1988–it was Michael Dukakis scrambling to get the nomination on the Democratic side. When Biden started making some inroads (however slight compared to Obama’s momentum)–Dukakis’s people managed to find a videotape of Biden giving a speech and not giving credit to lines of that speech attributed to the late Robert Kennedy and a British labor leader by the name of Neil Kinnock. Whether this was worse than the plagiarizing of his legal exam is still up for debate–but it was a double-whammy that ended his Presidential aspirations until running again for the 2008 Presidential election. When he dropped out early this last winter–very few to any people remembered his plagiarism case twenty years ago. A lot of people probably thought it would never happen again in American politics. But it’s not all that unusual to see a lot of other plagiarism cases swept aside for the sake of the better good–even when it might tap into the true character of some other (international) political figures…
The plagiaristic minds of Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin—and whether citing sources is really all that important in certain principled instances…
As we continue to debate whether WMD’s were in Iraq before deciding to invade there–there seems to be undeniable evidence that Saddam plagiarized a notorious report about Iraq’s status of possessing WMD’s by using text from prior U.N. reports and cleverly adding subtle touches to make the regime look clean. Considering this accusation came from Condoleezza Rice in a New York Times editorial back in 2003–it was almost akin to a political fight–hence some people on the left probably not trusting Rice…as well as Saddam. This case may be one of the most fascinating plagiarism cases in that it’s plagiarism from an enemy and not really knowing for sure if it’s accurate or not based on the opinions of others thinking the accuser was just as shady.
No matter what your political opinion of the Bush Administration is on the specifics of why we went in to invade Iraq–there seems to be at least some sufficient evidence that Saddam truly did plagiarize–and unsurprising in his usual acts of manipulation and obfuscation. If he truly didn’t have WMD’s in there, though–why did he bother to plagiarize a report stating that Iraq had no WMD’s? Some might answer that as saying he simply did it to make it look more official rather than suspicious.
Well, that above scenario almost sounds like every other plagiarism case in the world–especially university students under pressure taking a law test or getting their doctorate.
That above scenario also sounds contradictory in a lot of ways when you’d think the plagiarizer would know that looking too perfect raises red flags with those with plenty of experience scoping out plagiarism. It nonetheless might be able to help us determine what kind of person the plagiarizer really is under the surface. With the reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin once brazenly plagiarized a dissertation he did when attending the Brookings Institution–it may have planted a seed in him getting ahead through any means necessary…even when it would later deal with international relations.
With some of the recent questionable tactics and philosophies Putin’s displayed to America and the world, it isn’t all that surprising that he attempted plagiaristic activities to get himself through his education. And yet it’s seldom mentioned and never affected anything to the point of his advancement through politics. Why that is makes one wonder if the entire educational system is riddled with plagiarism cases from those who made it to top academic circles. If plagiarism is on record as a soiled part of one’s educational or political life–how else would they advance through the ranks without others in authority just brushing it aside and looking at the true talent of the individual rather than a foolish action they probably did themselves?
While easily arguable (and needing to be done judiciously)–citing sources may be becoming a thing of the past when it comes to using existing material to create something new or perhaps better. Even many of my own freelanced articles on the internet haven’t always cited sources merely as a way to make an idea about existing issues in the news stand alone and not give the feeling to someone that you merely extrapolated from AP news reports as less creative writers might do. The line between creative writing and pure journalism appears to still be wide in the eyes of a lot of critics. Many of my own articles are somewhere in the middle sometimes–and it puts a creative writer doing the same thing into states of feeling unsure where to draw the line when you have to define who you are for other potential writing jobs. Obviously, when you’re directly quoting someone, citing sources is mandatory. When giving a new idea on an existing subject–where you get the general information on that subject might be considered to be moot in a lot of people’s minds now.
And when alluding earlier to the aura of a person coming through words used by others–it gives a whole new perspective on how much of our own creativity and aura should be valued over the physical existence of words themselves. After seeing sound bites between Deval Patrick’s “Just Words” speech and Barack Obama’s oration using the same words–it’s easy to see that Obama made them truly compelling in the delivery and passion. Patrick’s delivery was dull and didn’t appear to provide a kinetic energy in comparison.
The point is that most people today appear to just want to be inspired when reading and listening to an inspiring speech and don’t worry about the inevitable collisions of overused phrases and words. Mind you, I’m not talking about lifting an entire work by someone else for the sake of profit and stature. Borrowing small lines here and there should fall under the basis of true creativity if it links to a whole new idea as Obama’s speeches did. If you’re friends with the person you’re borrowing from–it’s obviously even better…especially if that friend openly says to the press that it’s no big deal. Using phrases from Martin Luther King and other great people are overly obviously anyway when a whole new idea based on those phrases makes it all the more powerful.