Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches one of Hillary Clinton's campaign stops in Nashua, NH.
By Dana Milbank
Monday, January 7, 2008

NASHUA, N.H., Jan. 6

If Hillary Clinton borrowed any more from Barack Obama's campaign theme of "change" at her rally here, state troopers guarding the entrances would have been compelled to charge her with grand larceny.

"This election," she told 3,000 cheering supporters Sunday, "is about how we bring about change."

She went on to promise to "produce the changes that we desperately yearn for," asserted that she's "been making positive changes in people's lives," reminded the audience that she was busy "creating change in those years in the White House" and offered again to furnish "the change that is necessary."

Those things Obama has done? "That's not change," Clinton said, in a call-and-response chant with the audience. By contrast, Clinton said of her own record: " That is change."

It certainly is: 16 invocations of "change" in the first 10 minutes.

In the presidential race, Clinton has been the most flagrant shoplifter of others' campaign rhetoric. Last week, she cribbed verbatim three of Obama's slogans in a single phrase: "We are fired up and we are ready to go because we know America is ready for change."

But Clinton is hardly the only thief in a primary battle that is overrun with me-tooism. Last week's Iowa caucuses exacerbated the pilfering, as candidates purloined themes that seemed to have worked for their rivals. Obama has stolen Republican John McCain's "straight talk" theme and has made off with numerous phrases belonging to fellow Democrat John Edwards. And Republican Mitt Romney has been openly borrowing the "change" theme from Obama -- or is it from Clinton?

With so much word theft occurring on the campaign trail, the most famous confirmed plagiarist in the race, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Neil Kinnock), couldn't find an opening and had to drop out after his loss in Iowa last week.

Apparently, the theme thievery works. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Clinton backer, recalled to The Washington Post's Paul Kane how George W. Bush in 2000 stole the mantle of change from McCain. "We all laughed when we saw 'Reformer With Results,' " Menendez said. "We said, 'You gotta be kidding me.' But it worked."

On Saturday, the Boston Globe caught Obama red-handed after the new Democratic front-runner stole words from Edwards. Obama announced that "we shouldn't just be respecting wealth in this country -- we should be respecting work," suspiciously similar to Edwards's line in 2004: "we're going to reward work, not just wealth." Obama also joked about commercials about sexual-performance drugs that "have all these people running around in the fields" -- not unlike Edwards's 2004 joke about the same drugs: "Take it, and the next day you and your spouse will be skipping through the fields."

In his campaign announcement speech, Obama said: "I've been there [Washington] long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change." Four years earlier, Edwards, in his announcement speech, said: "I've spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington." Coincidence? Consider that Edwards's 2004 adviser David Axelrod is Obama's 2008 adviser.

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