Bush Speechwriter Accuses Obama of Plagiarism for Speech That Didn't Copy Anything

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 29 2014 5:12 PM

Bush Speechwriter Accuses Obama of Plagiarism for Speech That Didn't Copy Anything

465693763-president-barack-obama-delivers-his-state-of-the-union
Geez, it might as well be George W. Bush standing up there talking.

Photo by Larry Downing-Pool/Getty Images

There's time today for one more story of political attacks that misfired completely, right? This one comes from Fox News, which hosted former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen after he claimed that President Obama's speech had been lifted from the 2007 State of the Union.

There were lines like, "Our job is to help Americans build a future of hope and opportunity. A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy. A future of hope and opportunity requires our citizens have affordable and available health care. Extending opportunity and hope depends on a stable supply of energy." All of that came from the 2007 State of the Union address by George W. Bush. So, Barack Obama has gone from blaming George W. bush to plagiarizing George W. Bush.
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Thiessen's story has made the rounds, earning headlines like  "Former Bush Speechwriter: Obama Plagiarized Bush's 2007 SOTU" (Breitbart), "Bush Speechwriter accuses Obama of plagiarism in State of the Union," (Yahoo!) etc. Lazy content aggregators know that circulating an accusation like this will get precious, precious clicks. But taking that step requires a special kind of laziness—the kind that prevents you from contrasting two easily found speeches.

So, here are Thiessen's lines and their placements in both speeches.

"Our job is to help Americans build a future of hope and opportunity."

This appears in the Bush speech: "Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity—and this is the business before us tonight." Nothing like it appears in the Obama speech—the closest is "Opportunity is who we are."

"A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have."

That's the next line in the Bush speech. Nothing like it appears in the Obama speech. He doesn't even use the phrase "growing economy."

"A future of hope and opportunity requires our citizens have affordable and available health care."

Yep, that's in the Bush speech, as the preamble to a tax deduction proposal. Nothing like it in the Obama speech, just a defense of the ACA and a call for people to get enrolled by March 31.

Extending opportunity and hope depends on a stable supply of energy.

Also in the Bush speech. Obama—see the pattern?—does not repeat this. He says instead that "one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy," which is a similar sentiment.

That didn't take long to check, at all. I already offered my theory for why this became news (clicks!), and it was a pretty smart way for a replacement-level columnist to get on TV, but how serious was Thiessen? Serious enough to reiterate the charge to the Washington Times, and point to his September 2013 column arguing that Obama had "lifted" his speech in favor of strikes on Syria from George W. Bush. You see, Bush and Obama both argued that the "United States must hold a Baathist dictator who used chemical weapons against his own people to account," but unlike Thiessen's former boss, Obama was too much of a wimp to issue an ultimatum.

This is what passes for argument on the Bush-in-exile right. And this is what passes for a segment on Fox News.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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