Hillary's Husband Plagiarized, Too - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Hillary’s Husband Plagiarized, Too

This whole “controversy” over Obama using some of Deval Patrick’s words and phrases without attribution (but with Patrick’s consent) is a big kerfuffle created out of cotton candy. Politicians repeat others’ words and phrases all the time. The word “plagiariam” refers to use without attribution of whole passages in formal, written works (or, if in speeches, only in formal speeches that pretend to originality).

But here’s the rub: Nobody, and I mean nobody, is more adept at stealing good, clever political language than is Hillary’s husband, Angry Bill. I know, because he stole several phrases that my then-boss Bob Livingston and I came up with in the early and mid-1990s. Livingston would use a good (I flatter myself they were good), original turn of phrase, and it would show up in some news article or other, but not get major play. Three or four days later, Clinton himself would use it in a major press conference, as if it were his own, while turning its meaning against Republicans.

One example: “lean, but not mean.” I guarantee you that if you do a Google search or a Lexis/Nexis search for that phrase, it will never come up before 1995. It seems such an obvious phrase, but it’s not. I couldn’t find anybody else who used it when I came up with it, in my own head, in 1995. The point was that all the domestic discretionary spending cuts that Livingston was coming up with were supposed to create a government that was “lean, but not mean.” Indeed, using props that themselves were misreported in later tellings, Bob had earlier in the year said he would use a “Cajun scalpel” (a nasty-looking aligator-skinning knife, I think it was) to cut the budget — clearly using something bigger than a surgeon’s instrument, but with a surgeon’s precision and touch. Such was the intended message, anyway — that we were performing careful surgery, not radical chops, but that the surgery would save some serious money. The idea of the Cajun scalpel having worn out, he went to using the “lean, but not mean” formulation to stress, again, that there was nothing to fear, nothing whatsoever, from careful cuts that were taking the fat out of government.

His “lean, but not mean” phrase was quoted in print, if I remember right, two places on the first day he used it, including the Wall Street Journal. And the feedback we were getting on the Hill was good: This was a good way, other staffers told me, to make our point.

But just a few days later, in some big, televised forum or other, Clinton said (without acknowledging the provenance or original meaning of the phrase) that the GOP was being heartless in all of its proposed cuts, whereas he, the president, of course wanted budgetary efficiency, but RATHER than the GOP version of heartlessness, he himself wanted a government that was “lean but not mean.” And he said it as if the phrase and the idea were his own. Shaking his head dolefully (what an actor that man was!), he said it was just a shame that the Republicans were letting their meanness get the best of theim.

Of course, it worked. For months, nightly newscasts credited Clinton with wanting a lean but not mean budget (yes, using that exact phrase, and crediting both the words and the sentiments to him). After all, he had the bully pulpit, so when he used the phrase, it got national attention rather than being buried in paragraph 11 of a couple of news stories on page A-12.

And you know what? That’s politics. Clinton “plagiarized” that way all the time. I was frustrated as hell, but it would have looked silly for us to complain that he had “stolen” our language (in that situation or a few other similar ones I won’t bore y’all with). Similarly, it is utterly silly for the Clintons to bitch and moan about Obama doing the same, especially with Patrick’s own permission to do so.

So there.

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