Commentary Magazine


Obama’s SOTU Borrowed from Other Famous Speeches

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

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