- - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Stealing the published words of others is never a good idea, particularly in Washington, but whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor usually depends on who the sinner may be. Democrats often get by with plagiarism, Republicans usually don’t.

The Gaffe Patrol sent up its usual squadron of sin-seekers in the wee hours of Tuesday to shoot down Melania Trump for borrowing a few sentences from an eight-year-old speech by Michelle Obama. Melania knocked it out of the park on the opening night of the Republican National Convention. Taking Michelle’s words was naughty and she shouldn’t have done it. More to the point, the speechwriters in the Trump stable shouldn’t have done it.

But we still don’t know who wrote Michelle’s speech eight years ago, and whether and who he might have stolen words from, but some of the most dramatic passages were identical to those in a speech by Saul Alinsky, who wrote a book called “Rules for Radicals.” (He was Barack Obama’s early role model.)

It was difficult on Monday to keep track of who had said what. Barack Obama himself was called out for having stolen more than words from a former governor of Massachusetts in 2006. The governor, Deval Patrick, had been rebuked for his oratory and his skill with language. In answer, the governor said, “Don’t tell me that words don’t matter,” and cleverly cited a litany of famous passages from Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, JFK and Martin Luther King, repeating a biting theme: “Just words?”

Mr. Obama liked the speech so much that two years later he repeated the governor’s peroration word for word in a campaign speech. The White House explained that Mr. Obama hadn’t plagiarized, of course, he was “inspired.” Media acolytes had defended him in 2008, saying that at worst he was only guilty of “poor footnoting.”

Hillary Clinton stole so enthusiastically from Bernie Sanders this year that Mr. Sanders finally joked on “Meet the Press” that “we’re looking into the copyright issues here.” Thievery is old stuff for Hillary. She was caught in 2008 for even stealing lines from John Edwards.

But it was Joe Biden who wrote the book on big-time burglary. Joe knocked himself out of the 1998 presidential primary campaign when it was discovered that he stole not just passages but the whole biography of Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labor Party in Britain. Mr. Kinnock had spoken with poignancy and emotion about his Welsh ancestry and his coal-miner ancestors, asking rhetorically, “Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is [wife] Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?”

Joe was so taken with Mr. Kinnock’s biography that he wanted to have been a Welsh coal miner, too. He repeated the biographical passage almost word for word, stopping just short of calling his own wife Glenys. On further examination he was found to have stolen from speeches by Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

The internet, with its abundant archives, makes it harder to steal today. Melania Trump’s misdemeanor by association won’t be remembered long in the annals of crime. What will be remembered is her speech on opening night in Cleveland, and how an immigrant grateful for her new life in America brought the house down.

Melania could, we suppose, have stolen another line from Michelle Obama, who said on arriving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country.” We’re glad she didn’t. Melania Trump’s tribute to the American dream sounded like something from the heart.


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