Kudos to presidential historian Alvin Felzenberg for his tug on Obama's cape. A Ph.D. from Princeton and the former spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Felzenberg is the first intellectual insider to suggest publicly that President Barack Obama is not the writer the literati have anointed him to be.
In his review of the State of the Union speech posted on the U.S. News website, Felzenberg goes so far as to accuse the president and his speechwriters of plagiarizing it.
"President Obama's second State of the Union address contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince," writes Felzenberg. "Had the president submitted the text of his second State of the Union Address in the form of a college term paper, he would have been sent forthwith to the nearest academic dean."
As the impressively well-read Felzenberg documents, Obama lifted lines or ideas from the speeches of Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson, Mario Cuomo, Margaret Thatcher, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy without attribution.
Obama's awkward pilfering from Kennedy evoked the amateurish days of his writing career before he hooked up with skilled writer, editor, and terrorist Bill Ayers. "I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth," said Obama on Tuesday, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was comparing a "person" to a "nation."
In his inaugural address, Kennedy had gotten the analogy right: "I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people." It is likely that Obama finessed the Kennedy quote to avoid a word-for-word theft.
Plagiarism has been something of a problem for the POTUS and the VPOTUS. In his run for the 1988 Democratic nomination, Joe Biden baldly plagiarized a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, even adapting the particulars of his own life to Kinnock's. That run-killing revelation led in turn to the discovery that Biden had also been busted in law school for plagiarism.
During the presidential campaign of 2008, Obama himself stared down a plagiarism rap. After Hillary Clinton had accused Obama of merely giving pretty speeches, Obama responded:
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?"
In 2006, Deval Patrick, then running for governor of Massachusetts, was also accused by his female opponent of pretty speechmaking. Replied Patrick:
But her dismissive point, and I hear it from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words. 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.
"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Just words. "I have a dream." Just words.
When confronted with the accusation by a New York Times reporter, Obama replied defensively, "I've written two books. I wrote most of my speeches." This show of literary bravado was enough for the Times. Its reporters refused to see then and refuse to see now how naked their emperor stands as the Obama yarn unravels before them.
As a case in point, in his anticipation of Tuesday's State of the Union address, Matt Bai of the Times casually repeated a fiction now little-believed beyond America's newsrooms -- namely that "Mr. Obama is probably the most talented writer to occupy the office in the television age." Bai then wonders why Obama "hasn't tried to use that talent the way Kennedy capitalized on his personal charm."
As I show in my forthcoming book, Deconstructing Obama, Obama has no talent as a writer. In both of his books, and in all of his important speeches, he has relied on the talent of others. This is not unusual for a politician. What is unusual is that Obama has attempted to deceive America as to the nature of that talent.
"I've written two books," he told a crowd of teachers in Virginia in July of 2008. The crowd applauded. "I actually wrote them myself," he added with a wink and a nod, and now the teachers exploded in laughter. They got the joke: Republicans are too stupid to write their own books.
If Obama's dissembling is unusual, it is not unprecedented. The sainted John F. Kennedy pioneered the waters of literary fraud forty years before Obama, winning a Pulitzer Prize for a book, Profiles in Courage, that he himself did not write.
When legendary muckraker Drew Pearson accused then-Senator Kennedy of fraud on Mike Wallace's national TV show, the Kennedys used the servile family retainer Ted Sorensen to force a retraction from Pearson and Wallace.
Under oath, Sorensen would testify, "I did not write the book for Senator Kennedy." Had the presumed collaborator on Profiles been a figure of comparable disrepute to Bill Ayers -- say, Alger Hiss -- Sorensen's prevarications could not have dampened what would surely have been a media firestorm.
In his 2008 book Counselor, Sorensen would finally admit what he had been leaking since the book was first published: that yes, he "did a first draft of most chapters." He also received half the book's royalties before being bought out of his contract. Still uneasy more than fifty years later about his testimony before Pearson, Sorensen insisted, "I took my oath seriously."
Right, and Obama wrote two books "by myself."