Melania Trump controversy: A short history of political plagiarism

Would-be first lady joins cast of politicians accused of borrowing words of others

Melania Trump's speech at the Republican convention bore more than a passing resemblance to that delivered by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention. In following very close to parts of someone else's speech, the would-be first lady was in good company. Joe Biden, the US vice-president, was famously caught out, as were others.

Joe Biden and Neil Kinnock

In September 1987, the

New York Times

columnist

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Maureen Dowd

noted the striking similarities between a closing speech in a Democratic presidential debate by then Delaware senator Joe Biden and a political ad by the British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock.

In the August debate at the Iowa state fair, Biden said:

"Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go a university? Why is it that my wife . . . is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? . . . Is it because they didn't work hard? My ancestors who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come after 12 hours and play football for four hours? It's because they didn't have a platform on which to stand."

In May 1987, Kinnock told the Welsh Labour party conference:

“Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because our predecessors were thick? Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what we had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand.”

Biden said he had credited Kinnock on several occasions, but failed to do so this time. However, Michael Dukakis, one of Biden's rivals, released a video putting together the two speeches. The ensuing furore was a huge embarrassment to Biden and helped scupper his campaign.

Ironically, Dowd was caught up in a plagiarism row of her own in in 2009, when she was accused of lifting from a blogger for a column criticising Dick Cheney on the use of torture.

Stephen Harper and John Howard

In 2008,

Owen Lippert

had to resign over a speech he wrote five years earlier for his boss, the Canadian Conservative leader Stephen Harper. In 2003, Harper, the then leader of the Canadian Alliance, was calling for Canadian troops to be deployed to

Iraq

in a speech in the House of Commons in support of the US invasion.

Harper said: "As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply, particularly given in this case the shameless association of Iraq with rogue non-state organisations. That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the world, including to Canada and its people."

A few days earlier, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, a strong supporter of the Bush administration, had told the Australian parliament:

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, so the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply. That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people."

Lippert said that, pressed for time, he “had been overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech”. Lippert said Harper had been unaware of his action.

Barack Obama and Deval Patrick

In February 2008, the Clinton campaign accused Obama of plagiarism after he made a speech that closely resembled a 2006 speech by his friend, the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick. In his speech, Obama was responding to Hillary Clinton’s charge that all he had to offer was “just words”.

Obama cited well-known speeches and documents including those by Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy and from the declaration of independence and asked if they were just words. Patrick had used many of the same quotes. Obama subsequently acknowledged that he should have credited Patrick. "He [Patrick] had suggested we use these lines. I thought they were good lines. I'm sure I should have. Didn't this time."

Ben Carson and socialismsucks.net

In January 2015, Buzzfeed found that the Republican presidential candidate had lifted passages for his book,

America the Beautiful

, from the website Socialismsucks.net as well as plagiarising from conservative historians W Cleon Skousen, who died in 2006, and

Bill Federer

, although the latter is cited by Carson in the acknowledgements in getting the book published.

From socialismsucks:

“Sure, there are several different brands of socialism – at least as many types as there are would-be people-planners who wish to impose their plans to control the moral and economic lives of other people. But are you willing to surrender your precious liberties to a socialist state which promises ‘security’ for everyone or government-enforced equality? Isn’t this what Hitler and other socialists promised the German people in his Nazi (national socialist) platform – a country in which government guarantees security and “equality” in exchange for giving up individual freedom? Will Americans continue to fall for the same scam?”

From Carson's America the Beautiful:

“Sure, there are several different brands of socialism – at least as many types as there are would-be people-planners who wish to impose their plans to control the moral and economic lives of other people. But are you willing to surrender your precious liberties to a socialist state which promises ‘security’ for everyone and government-enforced equality? Isn’t this what Hitler and other socialists promised the German people in his Nazi (national socialist) platform – a country in which government guarantees security and ‘equality’ in exchange for giving up individual freedom? Will Americans fall for the same scam?”

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