October 29, 2013

Oops.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out Monday night, in a speech at Liberty University about how abortion rights in Virginia will lead, in inevitable underpants-gnome sequence, to eugenics, Rand Paul or his speechwriter appeared to have been culling from Wikipedia.

Here’s the video.

In general, giving a speech whose point is “If this man’s opponent is elected, something something something, THEN WE SHALL HAVE EUGENICS, JUST LIKE IN THE ETHAN HAWKE FILM GATTACA!” is not a tactic I would advocate. But almost as embarrassing as giving a speech about the threat of eugenics in the first place is the fact that whoever penned this apparently lifted a couple of passages straight off the “Gattaca” wikipedia page. To be fair, this is where most of us on the Internet get our most terrifying eugenics information. Based on this, I am less worried about the fact that my bad genes will keep me out of the astronaut pool than the fact that in a Gattaca-like eugenics-based society, everyone still stores their information on a kind of clumsy microfiche, and all our names will directly comment on our personality and symbolic role in the plot.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to the press after fellow Republican Ted Cruz (not Pictured) held a marathon attack on
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) REUTERS/Jason Reed 

But who hasn’t inadvertently hijacked a phrase or two from Wikipedia? Unpresidential, schmunpresidential. Wikipedia is reliable, according to a piece I hastily wrote using information I found on Wikipedia that was then cited as evidence for the same piece.

And this happens all the time, historically. At least according to Wikipedia. We all remember that awkward moment when Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, an emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide. For other uses, see, fear (disambiguation).”

Or when Winston Churchill said, “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen. The Happening is a 2008 American supernatural thriller film [3] written, co-produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, that follows a man, his wife, his best friend, and his friend’s daughter as they try to escape from an inexplicable natural disaster.”

Actually, you could argue that the Gettysburg Address is just a thinly disguised rehashing of Pericles’ funeral oration, which is why Lincoln said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here, or the victims of the Athenian plague, which Zeus willed. Hem,” and everyone awkwardly sat there for a little bit looking to Edward Everett for cues.

Really, a little Wikipedia salted into a speech is not that embarrassing. All this means is that someone on Rand Paul’s staff has discovered one of life’s greatest joys: reading Wikipedia film summaries and then talking about the films in question as though you’d actually seen them and understood their larger messages. If it weren’t for this method, I would have no opinions about pop culture whatsoever. Besides, it’s not like this is high school or college or any arena where you are being graded on your ability to generate original thoughts and phrases. As Lionel Trilling said: “Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.” And for the rest of us, there’s Wikipedia. No citation needed.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.