Has Barack Obama gone from blaming Bush to stealing from him? Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now a Washington Post columnist, told Megyn Kelly that Obama’s State of the Union speech sounded oddly familiar to him — and then realized it’s because he wrote some of its best lines. Only Thiessen says he wrote them in 2007, for Bush’s SOTU. But does the record actually reflect that? Er, not exactly (via Jeff Dunetz):
Kelly: Our next guest says he liked the president’s speech in some ways – because he wrote something very similar for President Bush back in 2007. Former presidential speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now with AEI, joins me now from Washington. Did the president crib off of George W. Bush, is that what you’re saying?
Thiessen: Yeah, it was eerily familiar. There were lines like, “Our job is to help Americans build a future of hope and opportunity. A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy. A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available healthcare. Extending opportunity and hope depends on a stable supply of energy.” All of that came from the 2007 State of the Union Address by George W. Bush. So, Barack Obama has gone from blaming George W. Bush to plagiarizing George W. Bush.
Kelly: Did you the write that speech? Is that why it was familiar to you?
Thiessen: I was the lead writer on that, yeah. That was the first state of the union that I was the lead writer on, and I was listening to Obama today, and I was like, “Good grief, that’s uh, that’s awfully familiar.”
Kelly: “This is great stuff! This is brilliant! He’s selling me!” [laughs]
Well, let’s check the record with the transcript. Obama’s speech contains twelve instances of the word “opportunity,” with one in particular sounding a similar theme. “But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. That shares the theme from Bush’s speech, in which the then-President stated: ” Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity — and this is the business before us tonight.”
Other instances of “opportunity” in Obama’s speech don’t really align well with Thiessen’s other notes. For instance, there is no mention of “opportunity” in conjunction with health care or energy. Nor is there any mention at all of a “future of hope,” only one mention of “a future of greater security and prosperity” in relation to our foreign policy in the Pacific Rim. Two others relate to Iran’s “opportunity” to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
I think Thiessen, who wrote excellent speeches in his time at the White House, might be too attuned to his own work here and heard similarities where none really existed. To a large extent, his sensitivity to the emphasis on “opportunity” is understandable; Bush made opportunity one of his major themes, especially when Thiessen was his main speechwriter, although the “ownership society” was a more prominent projection of that theme. But Bush is hardly the first President to have highlighted opportunity as a theme, and as we saw last night, he won’t be the last.
A better observation would be just how little of last night’s speech was novel at all. Presidents often borrow from predecessors for themes, and National Journal’s George Condon noted on Monday that Obama’s “year of action” comes directly from Richard Nixon, and borrow from themselves to develop a narrative arc. Obama, though, just repeated his same old policy prescriptions ad infinitum, as if we’d never heard them before and as if he hasn’t been President for the last five years of failure. He’s cribbing from himself.
Update: Minor edit to correct grammar in last paragraph.