Thursday, February 02, 2012

No Plagiarism Plague

A rather stupid "Exclusive" in today's Daily Telegraph, with Simon Benson claiming to have caught Tony Abbott plagiarising speeches in the manner of Anthony Albanese's embarrassing cockup last week.

Albanese (or at least his speechwriter) was busted for plagiarising a speech given by Michael Douglas as the US President in a movie. Whereas, according to Benson:
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been swept up in his own embarrassing claim of political plagiarism, appearing to have borrowed from speeches of two American Presidents and a US shock jock in his address to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
An example is given:
Apparently not concerned about crossing political divides, Mr Abbott also drew inspiration from Democrat president Barack Obama, quoting the same passage from Abraham Lincoln as Mr Obama used a week ago in his State of the Union address.

"The current leaders of the Labor Party have failed to understand what Abraham Lincoln knew in the marrow of his bones, that government should do for people what they can't do for themselves and no more," Mr Abbott said.
Abbott directly attributed the comment to Abraham Lincoln (whether Obama said it is irrelevant). How is this plagiarism?

Other weak examples were offered:
In outlining his vision of small government and greater individual freedoms as being principles of the Liberal Party, Mr Abbott said: "At the heart of Labor's failure is the assumption that bigger government and higher taxes are the answer to every problem."

On February 2, 1973, Richard Nixon said: "At home, we must reject the mistaken notion ... that even bigger government is the answer to every problem."
Hardly an explosive gotcha. It's a well established conservative view that small government is a good thing. Exactly how many way can you reword the same viewpoint to avoid petty claims of copying? Ditto any reference to democracy, freedom or bureaucratic meddling.

Still desperately trying to bust Abbott, Benson comes up with this:
Mr Abbott then went on to channel conservative US radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh: "The government has completely failed to appreciate the iron law of economics that no country has ever taxed its way to prosperity."

Mr Limbaugh, February 18, 1994: "No nation has ever taxed itself into prosperity."
It's debatable whether it's an "iron law" but the comment was based on a pretty well established political viewpoint.

Once upon a time, Winston Churchill said "We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle." (and Benson will probably accuse me of plagiarism now).

Albanese's cockup was amusing, he copped it sweet and everyone had a good laugh at is expense. It was hardly the biggest disaster from that government in recent memory. It seems now however we can look forward to journos Googling every single phrase of every political speech looking for similarities to expose. It will happen often - there are only so many tropes and it's not Tony Abbott who should feel embarrassed about this article.

It can't be good for the nation that political discussion in this country is being dumbed down to endless attempts at 'gotchas' which result in politicians hiring fact-checkers and speechwriters, rather than simply saying what they believe, doing what they say and letting us decide whether or not to support them.

Update: The comments on the Tele's post from rusted-on Labor voters are hilarious.
kevin marshall of woodridge qld Posted at 12:18 AM Today
what wrong with these clown canot that get some one with a wee bit of brains to think off something new not a repeat of some one else
dave Posted at 3:42 AM Today

Abbott, Abbott, Abbott. How the heck could you govern the country? You're just a cardboard cut-out of a Politician and Leader. The Liberals need to replace this guy now. The Liberals may be gloating over Albanese, but he doesn't LEAD a Party. If Abbott's the smartest politician the Liberals have, then the Liberal Party will remain in opposition forever. No wonder Gillard has you running around like a negative whinger.


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