Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Borrowed eloquence

Until recently, I admired a contemporary politician for his eloquence. Now, in a news story that may have been encouraged by his political opponents, I am told that some of his greatest phrases were stolen.

It reminds me of another speech maker. During a speech in Memphis on April 3, in a year not too far past, the earlier speaker borrowed without attribution from Exodus and the nineteenth century poet Julia W. Howe.

In the closing words of that speech, he reflected hopefully on the progress we have made as a nation toward healing our most frightful divisions. Somewhat morbidly, he also spoke as if he expected soon to die.

I was moved by this wedding of hope and sober mortality.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
We no longer tolerate borrowing and reinterpreting the words of others. We now expect all eloquence to spring forth each morning anew and without history. This unrealistic expectation is unwise.

Martin Luther King was assassinated the next day, in Memphis, on April 4, 1968.

[Update: edited slightly Feb. 20 to remove sarcasm].


Aliza said...

wow. every time i hear deval introduce barack i wish deval was running for president. HE is an amazing speaker. i wonder what he thinks about all of this.

Becks said...

I've read dozens of opinions on Clinton's latest tactic, but I think you put it best. Really though, all that this proves is how desperate Clinton is and how much she's grasping at straws.

Cookie Jill said...

It just shows how desperate the Clinton camp is.

What a wonderful post. Thank you.

Wouldn't it be a better world instead of wasting time on this "he stole words!" fiasco, we could actually talk about the future of our countries food system? The safety of our food system and what the candidates propose to change the current lack of any consideration for anything other than corporate earnings in the food sector.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post piece implies that the same person who likely wrote the original for Dean is writing for Obama. If that is true, it would seem more likely that the writer is putting a twist on some of his previously successful licks. As the book by the title "Made to Stick" explains, because making stuff stick is so hard, writers are very likely to recycle their previous successes.