HOUSTON, TEXAS—By this stage in the presidential primary battle, the Obama camp—and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) —knew or should have known that every time Obama lifted lines from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick —no matter who originally wrote or conceived the material—he left himself politically exposed.
Obama is well on his way to becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, fueled by his oratorical skills, ability to inspire, a solid ground game, outstanding fund-raising, his opposition to the Iraq war while a state senator, consolidation of the African-American vote and his appeal to crossover voters.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is hoping Obama’s lifting Patrick’s lines demonstrates he is, to use a phrase (I don’t know who coined it), “all hat and no cattle.” While waiting to determine if being a copycat erodes Obama’s growing support—he improves his standing in every demographic group with each election since Feb. 5 and did it again in Wisconsin—Clinton should be thinking of new ways to make her case.
This 35 years of experience and ready from day one stuff is not working for her. She may have found her voice in New Hampshire, but she has yet to develop a potent narrative.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive GOP nominee, on Tuesday night stepped up his characterization of Obama as a talker, not a doer and the Patrick/Obama language sharing agreement only highlighted his argument . “I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change --no more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people.”
Obama and Patrick, raised on Chicago’s South Side are friends and they share in common as their key strategist David Axelrod, the Chicago-based consultant. They swap political tips to the point that that stories were written, starting last year, about parallels in their aspirational campaigns, slogans and speeches.
One of the best and earliest overview pieces is the April 16, 2007 Boston Globe story by Scott Helman and the report, replete with examples, should have served as a warning to the Obama campaign. LINK
Helman wrote, “In the midst of his improbable run for office, Obama and his advisers have evidently studied Patrick's up-from-nowhere victory in Massachusetts and are borrowing themes, messages, and even specific lines for the presidential campaign.
“ It's the latest chapter in a symbiotic friendship between Obama and Patrick that continues to shape their political careers, according to admirers, observers, and associates of the two men.
“The similarities between Patrick and Obama, who have known each other for more than a decade, are obvious: Both are idealistic African-American leaders who came of age after the Civil Rights movement. Both have Chicago roots, a Harvard Law degree, and a gift for appealing to both blacks and whites,” Helman wrote.
The 2008 race for the White House is the first presidential YouTube election. Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial speeches were videotaped and every Obama speech is recorded. The side-by-side comparisons literally speak for themselves. When Obama used another Patrick riff last Saturday in Wisconsin, it was a tipping point.
I’m not sure if the flap over Obama borrowing elements of Patrick’s speeches will blow over in a few days or if it will have lasting impact. What is surprising is that Obama’s circle of advisors—and Obama—didn’t see this coming and they should have. While this controversy is unlikely to be decisive—it is distracting. And it was avoidable.