When Barack Obama Plagiarized ‘Don’t Tell Me Words Don’t Matter’

Obama Wisconsin 2008 (Scott Olson / Getty)
Scott Olson / Getty

Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) plagiarized then-Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts on the campaign trail in 2008 when he used Patrick’s signature line, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”

Jeff Zeleny, then of the New York Times, wrote:

Senator Barack Obama adapted one of his signature arguments — that his oratory amounts to more than inspiring words — from speeches given by Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts during his 2006 campaign.

At a Democratic Party dinner Saturday in Wisconsin, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, responded to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has criticized him for delivering smooth speeches but says they do not amount to solutions to the nation’s problems, by ticking through a string of historic references.

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” Mr. Obama said, to applause. “ ‘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?”

Mr. Patrick employed similar language during his 2006 governor’s race when his Republican rival, Kerry Healey, criticized him as offering lofty rhetoric over specifics. Mr. Patrick has endorsed Mr. Obama, and the two men are close friends.

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) seized on Obama’s copying, as the USA Today reported:

Hillary Rodham Clinton accused presidential rival Barack Obama of political plagiarism Thursday night, but drew boos from a Democratic debate audience when she ridiculed him as the candidate of “change you can Xerox.”

Obama dismissed the charge out of hand, then turned the jeers to applause when he countered, “What we shouldn’t be spending time doing is tearing each other down. We should be spending time lifting the country up.”

It was a clear case of plagiarism — and an ironic one, given that it centered around a phrase promoting the importance of words. In the end, Gov. Patrick excused his friend, and Democrats excused Obama, as they would for most things.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.