President Obama's second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, attempts to channel the spirit of great American statesmen. But it is one thing to channel the spirit of great men, and quite another to steal their words without assigning credit, especially within the confines of a bestselling book. While we should praise the former, we should rightly criticize the latter as a form of intellectual plagiarism.
Now, Obama has faced these criticisms before. In early 2008, for example, Hillary Clinton's campaign accused him of plagiarizing a speech by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. In that instance, the Washington Times reported the flowing similarities:
"Don't tell me words don't matter. '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?" -- Barack Obama, February 2008.
"'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?' Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' 'I have a dream,' just words?" -- Deval Patrick, October 2006.
And during his first term, some commentators, including Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh recognized several striking similarities between his speeches and those of Jimmy Carter.
Now, below are two pairs of passages that seem to suggest Obama may have lifted some portions of his bestselling book from other sources. I leave it to the reader to consider whether the similarities justify a charge of plagiarism.
The Audacity of Hope contains no notes, no source materials, and no bibliography. We are told (on page 365): "Sources for the statistics in this book can be found at http://www.audacityofhope.com/." The link now redirects and I can find nosuch source list there.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Fireside Chat," September 30, 1934:
"In our efforts for recovery we have avoided, on the one hand, the theory that business should and must be taken over into an all-embracing Government. We have avoided, on the other hand, the equally untenable theory that it is an interference with liberty to offer reasonable help when private enterprise is in need of help. The course we have followed fits the American practice of Government, a practice of taking action step by step, of regulating only to meet concrete needs, a practice of courageous recognition of change. I believe with Abraham Lincoln, that 'The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.'"
Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, pp.158-9:
"But our history should give us confidence that we don't have to choose between an oppressive, government-run economy and a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism. It tells us that we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. Like those who came before us, we should be asking ourselves what mix of policies will lead to a dynamic free market and widespread economic security, entrepreneurial innovation and upward mobility. And we can be guided throughout by Lincoln's simple maxim: that we will do collectively, through our government, only those things that we cannot do as well or at all individually and privately."
Bill Clinton, "State of the Union Address," January 24, 1995:
"...he [FDR] shaped the New Deal, which helped to restore our Nation to prosperity and define the relationship between our people and their Government for half a century. That approach worked in its time. But we today, we face a very different time and very different conditions... So tonight we must forge a new social compact to meet the challenges of this time. As we enter a new era, we need a new set of understandings, not just with Government but, even more important, with one another as Americans."
Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, pp.176-180:
"The last time we faced an economic transformation as disruptive as the one we face today, FDR led the nation to a new social compact -- a bargain between government, business, and workers that resulted in widespread prosperity and economic security for more than fifty years... Today the social compact FDR helped construct is beginning to crumble... Fortunately, there's an alternative approach, one that recasts FDR's social compact to meet the needs of a new century."
Again, whether these examples justify a charge of plagiarism, I leave to the discretion of the reader. But at the very least, The Audacity of Hope is yet another example among many of Obama's penchant for lifting passages from others without attribution.